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Walkie-textie: No bars, no problem with W’burg invention

The Brooklyn Paper
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This gadget will keep your thumbs busy even when the cell towers are down.

GoTenna is a Williamsburg startup that makes a walkie-talkie-like cellphone accessory to allow people to text-message each other even when phone service is out, or in areas with no reception. The company’s founders want to help people communicate in the event of disasters and diminish reliance on Big Telecom.

“The future of communication is distributed,” said Daniela Perdomo, one of the company’s founders. “We’re making tools that reduce our dependence on centralized communicat­ion.”

Perdomo came up with the idea when she had trouble reaching friends in Red Hook, and on the distant island of Manhattan, after Hurricane Sandy. Cellphone providers had problems, and communication was completely cut off in certain areas, she said.

“The winds and rain just shut everyone down,” she said.

GoTenna connects to cellphones through Bluetooth and lets users fire off texts and location information through a radio signal that other GoTenna users can receive. It can send single messages, group messages, or broadcast messages so that anyone using a GoTenna in the area will get them.

In an open area with enough elevation, the walkie-texties can send signals as far as 50 miles. In the denser confines of Kings County that range is probably closer to one mile.

But during an emergency, when the lights are out and phones are down, it is important for people to be in contact with their neighbors, Perdomo said.

“In Red Hook when people couldn’t communicate with each other, no one knew who had which resources,” she said. “This would have allowed people within a neighborhood to communicate.”

She anticipates people using the gizmo in less dire situations as well. The devices are also good for hiking trips or large outdoor events such as musical festivals or the New York City Marathon, where traditional cell service often grinds to a halt, she said.

The GoTenna is currently being sold on the company’s website for pre-order at $149 per pair, and will start shipping early next year. The company does everything except for its manufacturing in the borough. The team hopes to one day use a factory closer to home than Mexico but says that, for now, it is too expensive. Making a company here is a real achievement, given all the financial and regulatory barriers, Perdomo said.

“We’re really proud to have started in Brooklyn,” she said. “It’s hard to do anything in New York.”

Techno Files

Black Girls Code, a group that tries to give girls of color a leg up in science and technology, is holding a panel discussion in Boerum Hill this month. The “Women of Color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math” panel will feature women speaking about their experiences and careers. It will take place on Oct. 11 at the Young Women’s Christian Association on Third Avenue, and is free with online registration.

•••

Brooklyn On Tech launched this week with a fund-raiser at Etsy Labs in Dumbo. The program is set to provide mentoring and extracurricular programming to 20 juniors and seniors from Brooklyn high schools, giving them the opportunity to meet tech professionals and helping prepare them to pursue higher education in tech fields.

•••

Heritage Radio Network, the foodie internet radio station housed in famed, L-train-adjacent pizzeria Roberta’s, is teaming up with the Brooklyn Winery for a night of music, food, and libations on Oct. 16. “The Big Crush: A Celebration of Wine and Food Radio” will include a new vintage from the winery plus live music, a recording booth to capture stories about people’s crushes, and a raffle to benefit the radio station.

•••

Brooklyn’s many tech meet-ups are meeting up in Voltron-like fashion on Oct. 9 at the Huge offices in Dumbo. The Brooklyn Super Meet-Up is being organized by the tech blog Technical.ly, and will give borough techies a chance to expand beyond their normal network — or just network.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Jay from Nyc says:
Tney should have done tneir research, you can already buy a commercial product that performs this same function and is waterproof and can be powered by solar or Handcrank for a fraction of the cost that gotenna is selling for. They are called walkie talkies and amazon can send em to you overnight. I see no value added in this product.
Oct. 2, 2014, 8:06 am
Common Cents from Crown Heights says:
Next they will built cheaper extenders to expand the network, give them to homeless people and call it BumTooth...
Oct. 2, 2014, 9:37 am
Matthew from Williamsburg says:
Hey there Jay!

Matthew with goTenna here. We think we do a lot of things that walkie talkies do not do... we can share location, we use the smartphone you already have on you, our text messaging allows for less misinformation and communication with hearing-impaired, our networking protocols let us be much more effective with a lot of people!

I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about the device.
Oct. 2, 2014, 9:56 am
jay from nyc says:
Matthew, I appreciate your attempt to engage in a dialogue, my response is that you can share location with a walkie talkie as well, and the military has been doing so and proving so for, oh, five decades or so under life and death combat conditions around the world.
As far as a "network" is concerned, again the military has used something called a radio net for decades as well which again does the same thing, which is achieved by everyone putting on the same frequency and basically people can hear what each other is doing in real time. Cubscouts do this too.
And before you start claiming something like secure comms with your device, off the shelf walkie talkies have privacy codes and also encryption ability these days too, so no advantage to gotenna there either.
Your product has a battery life of three days, what do you do on day four, given that a) the battery in your product is not removable a b) you are posting your product as an emergency situation device?
Sandy people, in some cases, were without power much longer than three days, and in hurricanes its not uncommon for people to be out of power for up to three weeks. Gotenna will be go-byed by then.
Walkie talkies can be charged on solar or hand cranked, or even by usb hooked up to a variety of charging sources.
In addition, walkie talkies don't require yet another app download slowing down my phone and tracking my personal info and eating battery time as Gotenna does.
Oct. 2, 2014, 5:26 pm
jay from nyc says:
you run an ad for a product and tout it as an article and then block me BP? really? Did you just hire Tal as your editor?
Oct. 2, 2014, 9:33 pm
jay from nyc says:
Matthew to continue, if you add video and picture capability to your product and drop the price to 40 bucks a pair or make it satellite communication ready for world wide operation, that would be an interesting product, but right now you are chasing a proven mature technology that is more cost effective than what you are offering. There are also walkie talkies for hearing impaired people already on the market as well.
Oct. 2, 2014, 9:36 pm

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