By Rebecca Lane from UtahValley360
PROVO — Provo-based MULTIVOICE
is changing the face of radio interaction with it’s new Wireless Mesh-Network Intercom, and now they will be able to take it further with its new investor OTTO Engineering, who announced their contribution of a $5 million round of strategic seed funding Wednesday morning.
“As a leader in the design and manufacture of critical communications accessories, OTTO has been searching for a cutting-edge solution for local team-talk or ‘wireless intercom,’” said Tom Schreiber, general manager of OTTO, in a press release. “When we saw the advancements MULTIVOICE had made that bring new capabilities to the wireless industry, we knew we wanted to do everything we could to support their efforts. We’re very pleased to now be a part of Team MULTIVOICE
and to help take MULTIVOICE’s technology throughout the world.”
In exchange for its investment, Chicago-based OTTO receives a minority stake in MULTIVOICE at a post-money valuation of $25 million. OTTO, which specializes in designing and manufacturing radio accessories for military, public safety and industrial use, will help raise awareness of MULTIVOICE’s new wireless communications platform.
MULTIVOICE has been in “stealth mode” since it was founded in 2011, but now with the new funding, MULTIVOICE is able to break deeper into the technology market. MULTIVOICE intends to use the funding for research and development efforts, expanded sales and marketing programs, and general operations.
In the beginning
Ron Fraser had spent 30 years designing and developing wireless communications for companies such as Texas Instruments, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Porta Phone and more. In 2011, Fraser wanted to take a risk by venturing out on his own to develop technology that would make a difference for the criminal justice system. So Fraser came up with an idea to change the push-to-talk (PPT) radio — an industry that hadn’t changed in nearly 60 years.
Fraser began to research by learning what problems businesses face with PPT radios. After a crowd stormed the field at a BYU football game, Fraser hung around after the crowd dispersed to talk to the officer managing the chaos. When Fraser asked the officer how he communicated with fellow officers while they are busy controlling a crowd, the officer answered, “We don’t.”
This disconcerting answer motivated Fraser to find a way to make radios hands-free.
“There is no way for them to push a button — it is so loud — and talk through their microphone which is on their chest and be able to communicate,” Fraser said.
Fraser worked to develop the technology, got feedback from demonstrations and eventually brought on MULTIVOICE’s other co-founders Todd Rapier and David Politis.
What makes it different
The 10.9-ounce radio can reach up to a 4000 ft. range (greater distances possible with upgrades) and seeks to fulfill the company’s slogan, “BE HEARD”.
Fraser was able to invent a hands-free radio where people don’t have to hit the button in order to talk — but that isn’t all that he invented.
Whereas most radios only allow one person to talk at a time, Fraser found a way to allow eight people to talk (or be part of the conversation) at one time and have up to 20 more people listening in. Not only that, but Fraser invented Whisper Technology, where people listening over the radio can clearly understand everything you whisper.
“You could be sitting three feet away from me and could not here me whisper and yet everyone can hear me (on the radio),” Fraser said.
The headset, by OTTO, protects the ears and eliminates the sounds, but allows for conversations to still be held. The co-founders tested this at a shooting range where they held a conversation while shooting machine guns, shotguns and handguns.
“Normally when you are shooting a gun, you don’t want to be talking because the gunshot sound will blast over the system,” Fraser said. “But with this you can shoot a gun and talk at the same time, so it actually takes out the gunshot.”
Another difference Fraser developed in the radio is through eliminating the base station. Instead the system uses Spread Spectrum Frequency Hopping where the network switches frequencies every 30 milliseconds, making it relatively impossible to jam.
“Even if someone was trying to … eavesdrop, they would have to know the exact pattern of the frequency changes to be able to listen in,” Politis said. “And if bad guys are trying to zone in on your radio signal, they can’t do it.”
Where it will make a difference
All of these technology changes add up to what MULTIVOICE’s co-founders say will save lives.
“Any time you’re involved in an endeavor that potentially changes the way people are able to behave and interact, it’s an exciting proposition,” Rapier said. “We’re talking about individuals who otherwise are doing their job, but are not able to interact with the group, that are now able to validate and be heard in the group.”
Politis even believes it would have been a different game for the Navy SEAL in killing Osama bin Laden if MULTIVOICE’s technology would have been around. Before troops invaded bin Laden’s camp, the team had to train for six months in a replica of bin Laden’s compound. They trained because once they were in the mission they could only communicate through hand gestures.
“We think that if they would have had our technology they could have shortened that at least by half,” Politis said. “It would have changed the way they could have gone in.”
Where it’s used
Currently, MULTIVOICE’s radios are being used in coaching for high school and college football games, the military, industrial/manufacturing settings and public safety. They even had their first police department purchase the radios.
As Fraser figured out the solutions to radio issues, he realized that the radio could be used for many regular-Joe activities including skiing/snowboarding, paintballing, motorcycling, hunting and more. However, they haven’t quite developed the simple technology necessary, but that is in the works.
And MULTIVOICE has plans to continue solving the “Can you hear me now?” questions in the future.
By Jasen Lee of The Deseret News –
Ron Fraser considers himself a problem solver.
Over his 30-year career, the engineer has taken on many challenges, including developing radar systems and communications systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Fraser has also developed specialized radio solutions for companies such as 3M, Porta Phone, Texas Instruments, TRW, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the Titan missile program and several Silicon Valley startups.
Today, the BYU graduate and recipient of four U.S. patents is making his mark with a new venture in Utah County.
A few years ago, Fraser was asked by Porta Phone to develop a communication system that would allow four football coaches to talk at the same time. At the time, his immediate response was, “It can’t be done.”
Two weeks later, he had it figured out.
Fraser’s goal was to expand the technical limitations of traditional push-to-talk hand-held mobile radios to facilitate safer and more effective wireless communication. He envisioned improving interaction in various settings, including the military, public safety, coaching staffs in sports, as well as in industrial and manufacturing.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the basic workings of a walkie-talkie and how it enables groups of people to communicate with each other at distance, Fraser said. One of the major drawbacks of such a system has been the fact that when one person pushes the button to speak, that individual is the only person who can be heard on the network until he or she stops pushing their button, he explained.
“In some circumstances, such a drawback merely means that certain jobs are not done or the group is unable to be as effective or efficient as it might be otherwise,” Fraser said. “But in other settings, this limitation can mean the difference between life and death. My goal was to fix this problem.”
And with his recently developed technology, he believes he has achieved his goal.
In 2011, Fraser founded MULTIVOICE, a technology company that has devised new approaches to radio communications. The company’s first product — the MV900 Wireless Mesh-Network Intercom — allows groups of up to eight people to converse simultaneously on a secure, hands-free, wireless network at distances of up to 1 mile apart without using a base station.
The system provides up to 17 hours of actual talk time without recharging and can last for 30 hours in standby mode, Fraser said.
Built to fit in standard pockets and pouches commonly found in military and public safety uniforms, as well as industrial clothing and gear, the MV900 weighs less than 11 ounces, uses two rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and has a 1.3-inch antenna.
In working on the technical aspect of the radio communication issue, Fraser said he became acutely aware of what was at stake for those who deal with the problem regularly.
“I was simply trying to solve what I saw as a dangerous problem confronting professionals who put themselves in harm’s way every single day — our soldiers, police officers, firefighters, SWAT team members and (emergency medical technicians),” Fraser said. “I later realized that if we could deliver such capabilities, others might also benefit … from construction workers to manufacturers, and from football coaches to oil rig operators.”
In 1997, Fraser developed the first sideline communication system for coaches that is seen at every elite level of competitive football today. Similar systems are also used in auto racing. But the company is most proud of how the technology will be able to help police, public safety and industrial workers, and particularly military soldiers.
The system allows each person connected to the system to speak at levels as low as a whisper, even in heavy gunfire or in large crowds. Had members of Navy SEAL Team 6 used the system during their mission to capture Osama bin Laden, they could have been in constant contact and still have been able maintain the element of surprise, explained Todd Rapier, MULTIVOICE president and co-founder.
The headsets for the MV900 are made by minority partner OTTO Engineering based in Carpentersville, Illinois. The radio and power packs are also American-made, said chief marketing officer David Politis.
Currently, radio systems employed by law enforcement or military can cost about $3,500 per unit, while the first version of the MV900 system costs about $1,500 per unit, Rapier said.
Already relatively compact, the company is also working on making upcoming versions of the unit even smaller and lighter while enhancing other key features for enhanced functionality, he added.
The “big launch” is scheduled for March, Rapier said.
Eventually, the company would like to partner with a mobile service provider, he said.
For now, company officials are excited about the prospects of providing technology that will be potentially “game-changing” for so many people in various sectors of industry.
“In a professional work environment, we are talking about making it safer, saving lives, making it so people don’t get injured, but also making them more effective and more efficient,” Politis said.