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Beam me up, Scottie – Suitable Technologies' new remote presence system

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September 26, 2012

Suitable Technologies' Beam remote presence system

Suitable Technologies' Beam remote presence system

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Suitable Technologies has revealed the Beam remote presence system, which boasts a 17-inch LCD display and reliable wireless connection thanks to four Wi-Fi radios. The same group previously developed a remote presence system called the Texai at Willow Garage, which you may recall seeing on an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Suitable Technologies was created specifically to refine the Texai and market it – the result was the Beam.

The bot comes equipped with two cameras, giving the operator both a wide-angle view of the device's surroundings and another looking directly in front of its mobile base. This setup should allow the operator to avoid obstacles that are too low for the primary camera to catch. A microphone array provides high quality audio that should allow conversing even in a noisy setting. All the operator needs is an internet-connected Windows PC or Mac, a webcam, and microphone.

Priced at US$16,000 (plus an extra $950 for its charging dock) places the Beam in a precarious position at the top end of the spectrum. Similar products (albeit with much smaller video displays and less reliable connections) range between $2,000 (Double Robotics' Double) and $10,000 (Anybots' QB, Gostai Jazz Connect).

Suitable Technologies' Beam remote presence system

That premium may be justifiable given the more reliable connection. "The biggest differentiator of Beam is its ability to stay connected," said Tim Smith, a spokesperson for Suitable. "In our early testing, we learned that it's not that difficult to build a remote presence device that keeps a wireless connection 70-80 percent of the time but that absolutely won't cut it for an enterprise-class product." Nobody wants their connection to drop out during an important meeting.

Still, given that the technology isn't dramatically different across all these remote presence systems, I suspect there may be wiggle room in Beam's retail price. Just as the Anybots QB has shed five thousand dollars since its launch in 2010, the same could happen with the Beam. For now, companies looking to try this technology will likely question the value of a Beam when that investment can purchase eight Doubles from Double Robotics.

The Beam can be seen in action in the video below.

Source: Suitable Technologies via IEEE Spectrum

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers.   All articles by Jason Falconer
6 Comments

Have a look at the plans for a $500 telepresence robot at http://procrastineering.blogspot.com/2011/02/low-cost-video-chat-robot.html. It is designed by Google engineer Johnny Lee.

The design is fairly simple, based on a commercially available parts, and you can even download the required software. Im expecting to see similar cheap commercial units fairly soon.

Bob64
26th September, 2012 @ 06:58 pm PDT

This scenario is exactly the same as one which appeared in the Stallone movie, Demolition Man. There is a scene in the council room where decisions are made and the members are using tele-presence very similar to this.

paulgo
26th September, 2012 @ 09:19 pm PDT

@Bob64

That is amazingly interesting. I wonder if iRobot has a commercil restriction on the Create that would prevent someone from from using it as a commercial telepresence platform?

Someone mentioned the iPad in the comments of that article as a replacement for the $250 netbook and it makes sense to use a tablet because it uses less power. How hard could it be to buy iRobot creates ($250) and some Nexus 7's ($200) in bulk to create a commercially available remote presence platform for $1,000 - $1,500 each?

Google already has Voice, Chat, Hangouts etc., maybe they should just pluck Johnny Lee and a team of people to make a commercial version.

I saw a version one of the Microsoft robotics engineers made using Kinect ($150) that would understand some basic voice commands and auto-follow. Once a product like this gets enough sales volume to support a small R&D team there are a ton of really cool things that can be done with it.

All the pieces are there, we are overdue for someone to combine them well before Apple does it and the courts decide they own the idea.

Daishi
27th September, 2012 @ 02:05 am PDT

I want to add that there is huge potential in general for Android etc. as a robotics platform because mobility is already such a huge design focus.

My last generation Android phone is no longer used but it still has WiFi, Bluetooth etc. so it would be cool if you could download some software off Google Pay to dock it on the Robosapien, Roborover etc. to give them vastly more intelligence over the current versions. Ditto for something like Lego Mindstorms, it would bring a whole nother level of programability.

Even with remote presence there is opportunity outside the corporate world as a method for people to keep in touch with home while traveling or for injured, disabled, or bed ridden people to be able to control one to go look around or socialize with people not at their bedside. There is maybe even a use case in education for remote students or to rent a one at a museum that isn't close by. My grandfather is in the hospital ~3,000 miles away, I can call him but that isn't the same as being able to drive one of these off the dock at the hospital to visit him.

Daishi
27th September, 2012 @ 03:49 am PDT

You really should count the Double's price as $3000, because you'll need two iPads to use it, which are not included.

SLB
27th September, 2012 @ 11:52 am PDT

Ever watch Demolition Man, with Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock? There is a scene where Dr. Cocteau is addressing his cohorts, and they are all represented by lcd panels on supports that swivel to keep the Doctor face to face with his 'callers'. Science imitating art?

d

Dennis Learned
27th September, 2012 @ 02:35 pm PDT
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