A father and his Onyx

My first radio setup
My first radio setup

It was my grandfather who taught me about communications. He started his career as a Radio Operator during World War II, being stationed in Pearl Harbor mere days after the attack. He continued this passion for communications by becoming a Ham Radio operator and, after moving to Florida for retirement, coordinating disaster communications during many of South Florida’s more serious hurricanes. I credit my grandfather with much of what I know about communications systems, how they work, and why they’re built. He always encouraged me to tinker, take apart, and build. He gave me my first radio and pushed me to get on the air.

I continued this tradition through my training and hobbies, and eventually started a business focused on communications: Orion Labs. But it wasn’t until I became a father myself that I really understood the impact that an always-on instant communications system without boundaries could have…

“Is this the ticket line, or the membership line?”

That’s usually the opening line to the elevator pitch I give when people ask me “What’s that little circle you’re wearing?” The Onyx was born of several needs, the most personal of which was the need stay in touch with the rest of my family when we’re out and about. Ask anyone with a precocious 2-year-old about their biggest struggle, and other than convincing their child that there are words other than “NO”, it’s staying in touch with other parents.

Greg+Aria reading

The example use case I like to use is our iconic visit to the Zoo. My wife and I decided when we had Aria that we’d get a Zoo membership, which (usually) entitles you to priority entry, and thus, skipping the line on busy days (“CLEAR for toddlers”). That said, there’s the stark reality of the two-line paradox — Are we in the right line? If we change lines, do we forfeit our previous choice in what may have been an advantageous line?! One of us needs to stay with Aria… That’s when you send a scout (a.k.a Mom) to the front of the line to ask the pressing question: “Is this the ticket like, or the membership line?” Mom can then relay the answer back to me in line by simply talking into Onyx — no yelling required.


I’m cognitively incapable of shopping, and when we do go shopping I happily take leave to explore the store with Aria. This gives mom ample time to peruse the vast choices of socks, paint colors, or tortilla chips while I chase a 2-year-old around explaining to her that the store display dog mannequin doesn’t need a bath and her water is best left in its bottle. When mom’s done it’s really easy for her to hit a button (Onyx) and summon the troops. We’re all promised a surprise and muster into the car quickly to receive it.

Aria at Home Depot
Aria at Home Depot

When we started Orion, I decided that the challenges of startup life weren’t enough, and also had a baby and bought a house. Three years in I’ve learned many, many, many things. One of the over-arching themes is that houses require constant upkeep! My grandpa had a great quote about Atlanta (where we were born & lived): “Atlanta would be a great city – if they ever finish building it!” That’s what owning a house is like. Luckily, I happen to be married to a very capable project manager who has no problem switching from managing to line-work.

My wife, Curi, using Onyx to relay meter information to me while I’m in another part of the house

Often while we’re working on the house, we find ourselves in different parts — for example, one of us is upstairs making lunch and the other is painting in the garage — Onyx makes it possible for us to talk to each other in normal-volume voices instead of yelling across the house.

Aria helping me sweep.
Aria helping me sweep.

A fascinating aspect of Onyx as a voice communication device, and the use of voice communications in general is how quickly Aria has adapted. She understands that if she picks up the Onyx (or as is more often the case, rips it off of me when I pick her up) she can press the button and talk to mom, the latest bots I’ve set up, or Jesse (my co-founder). She now believes that everything she picks up that has a button has the ability to speak and that there’s a robot, if not a person, on the other end of every conversation. She even tries to talk to the Roomba!

Here's Aria building a robot.
Here’s Aria building a robot.

Aria is already tinkering and learning about communications. She’s learning quickly, and she’s already trying to build things. My grandfather would be proud.