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.
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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).
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.