Easy Communication with Airwave

We at Mountain Life are always on the lookout for gadgets that make being outside more fun. The makers of the Airwave are hoping to enhance the skiing experience with their device.
A go-between for your smartphone and walkie-talkie, the Airwave enables you to communicate with the others in your group through a standard smartphone earbud and mic. No fumbling with pockets, no opening your jacket on the chair, and it’s small enough that it won’t feel like you’re carrying yet another electronic box.
We spoke with the creator of the Airwave, Rob Wheatley, about the invention in anticipation of the upcoming winter. (Incidentally, their IndieGogo campaign is live now until October 16th).

ML: When did this idea come to you?
Rob: I’ve always thought there should be an easier, better way to communicate on the slopes. Back in the University days, we used to take walkie-talkies out when there were 30+ of us to stay in contact. It really came to a head in 2007 during my first season when I was inches from launching myself off Chainsaw Ridge in Whistler (whilst listening to music) that the idea seemed really worth following up. It wasn’t just about listening to music that could block your senses (it was an added bonus if you could still do this and increase your safety margin), it was about providing a simple and easy to use communication method without having to physically touch multiple devices (being clad in winter gear with helmet, goggles, gloves), whilst skiing/snowboarding and over small distances as well as large.

I think sometimes it’s the latter point that people miss because they are used to the idea of walkie-talkies providing relatively long distance communication. In fact if you’re riding almost next to your friend the chances of them hearing you shout as you’re skiing are pretty minimal anyway because they too are focused on what’s ahead of them and on having a good time! The fact is, walkie-talkies are awesome over any distance, and because they are free and simple to use, they are the communication method of choice for mountain professionals. Loads of people have a set gathering dust in the cupboard because until now, they haven’t been integrated into today’s primary device – the phone. There’s definitely some cool tech coming out for winter/adventure sports but what I’ve seen so often is companies bringing out products that try to solve loads of issues with a high price tag, without making use of existing technology people already own.

Fundamentally, communication is a problem in the mountains and this is where the Airwave fits in; it works with any walkie-talkie that has an external headset jack (except waterproof ones, which we are working on) and retains your phone as the primary device which is what we’re all used to. Listening to music is optional but in my view snowboarding and skiing are better with a soundtrack!

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ML: On that note: what does your usual shred track sound like?

Rob: As a drummer, I tend to listen to a lot of 80’s thrash metal – Pantera, Metallica and more recent metal core like Trivium, Bullet and Architects when I’m riding hard. There’s so much energy in that kind of music that makes it ideal for charging the hill. If I’m taking it easy I’ll listen to hip-hop and drum and bass. Most of the time I just leave my phone on shuffle and see what comes up.

The newest version.

ML: Are there concerns about safety, specifically not hearing people coming up behind?
Rob: This one comes up quite regularly to be honest. I think many make the assumption that because you’re obscuring your hearing sense, that it makes you more likely to have an accident. I really don’t buy that, but I can see how it’s the obvious assumption. I’ve been riding close to 20 years and never had an accident because I couldn’t hear someone coming. Most of the time people crash because of the visual blind-spot that both skiers and boarders have behind them or because someone decides to have a picnic in the middle of the slope or over a blind hill.
With the Airwave, imagine you’re in the trees, you lose visual contact with your friend, you stop and hope to hear the sound of their board for something to follow. You hear nothing, or hear something and shout but you won’t be heard. With the Airwave you simply press your earphones button to open up a channel and talk as if they’re right next to you. Your music pauses automatically, as it does if someone hails you. Because the Airwave provides the radio with a Bluetooth connection, you can put both devices in your pocket or backpack and not have to touch it all day.  The same situation works in the park, when someone stacks it off the kicker and you can’t see the landing, or on the trails you can easily give your friend in front the heads-up that there’s a rock, ski school, family etc. to watch out for. Similarly, the days of losing someone and waiting by the lifts for half your morning are over because you can communicate so much more easily.

ML: How does the battery fare?

Rob: From our tests in Whistler and Fernie last season, the dedicated battery will outlast and doesn’t drain your phone and walkie-talkie. At minus 20 the Airwave will last over 8 hours from a full charge, depending on how often you use it. At room temperature it could last well over 24hrs. We are working in conjunction with a major Bluetooth chip manufacturer to design custom firmware to further reduce the impact on battery life to support some of the other cool stuff we are developing behind the scenes.