A couple of years ago we were smitten with a robotic “remote presence device” (RPD) that we saw at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. This gadget is made by Suitable Technologies (www.suitabletech.com) and is called the Beam. We thought it was exceptionally cool and futuristic, but not necessarily practical for our own personal use. As is often the case, we began to rethink the practicality of this new technology as we revisited the Suitable Technologies booth at this year’s CES. No longer thinking it was “impractical” and desperately wanting to play with this new tech “toy”, we began to think of reasons (excuses) to buy the Beam. Our “reasoning” won the day and we raided our “gadget fund” to purchase the $1,999 Beam+ (a larger, more expensive model, BeamPro, is also available).
When our Beam+ arrived in a huge box, we anxiously unpacked the 4.5-ft robot, wondering how long it would take to set up our new remote telepresence friend. We were pleasantly surprised to note that hardly any assembly was required (just plug in the charging plate and place the Beam+ on the charger). We were even more pleased that the software setup was almost as easy. We just connected the Beam+ to our high-speed Wi-Fi, downloaded the control software from Suitable Tech and we were ready to roll.
And “roll” is what you do with the Beam+. Using the software app on your computer, you can maneuver the Beam+ robot anywhere you want it to go, as long as it stays within the Wi-Fi coverage area. The Beam+ has a video screen near the top of the 4.5-ft frame that displays the camera image of the person controlling the robot from their computer. The computer operator can see through the “eyes” of the Beam+ by way of two internal cameras on the Beam+, one near the top to see people in the path of the Beam+ and one near the bottom to see potential obstacles near the floor where the robot is traveling. Using the arrow keys on the keyboard, we were able to roll the Beam+ off the charging pad, swivel it around to the door of the office and then move it down the hallway of our office. We were able to communicate and see people in the office that we met with the Beam+ and they could see and hear us via the built-in video monitor. After folks in the office got over the “creepiness” of us sneaking up on them with our robot, we were able to carry on conversations just as if we were in the room with the person….complete with eye-rolls, smirks, and hand gestures, relayed via the video screen.