Beam telepresence bot can vaporize your business travel

Willow Garage spinoff Suitable Technologies' new remote-operated robot lets you meet with co-workers while staying at home.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
The $16,950 Beam robot and charger let you robot around from the comfort of home. Suitable Technologies

If you're getting sick and tired of flying to another city for a few unproductive meetings, you don't have to dream of a day when telepresence robots will make that totally unnecessary.

Beam from Suitable Technologies, a spinoff of Willow Garage, is a new addition to the growing field of remote-operated robots that project your presence into a distant location. Like other telepresence bots, it's basically a Webcam on wheels, letting you roam around offices or factories to chat with colleagues.

Officially called the Beam Remote Presence System, the bot is roughly 5 feet tall, weighs 95 pounds, can roll along at walking speed (about 5 feet per second), and has a 17-inch screen. It's got two HD cameras, six microphones, speakers, Wi-Fi, and LED lamps.

Fully charged, the battery can power Beam for eight hours of active use. Users pilot the device with Windows or Mac OS X client software and their mouse or keyboard. When done, they'll steer the device into a recharging dock.

Suitable is selling the robot starting at $16,000, and its charging dock for $950, with shipping to begin in November.

Beam grew out of Willow Garage's Texai telepresence robot, which I test-drove back in 2010, just after driving around Anybots' QB robot. QB is now priced at $9,700 but lacks a large screen.

Indeed, the screen highlights the design differences between the two. QB seems like more of a robot with its two large camera eyes, while Beam is more of a mobile screen.

But as more telepresence droids come on to the market, prices should keep falling for higher-end solutions. Double Robotics is hacking the iPad into a telepresence bot with a Segway-like body for only $1,999.

"With the growth in dispersed workforces, Suitable anticipates early adopters to come from those businesses with remote engineers or knowledge workers," the company said in a release. "These individuals can then choose their employer based not on the address of the company headquarters, but on the physical location of their preference."

The prototype Texai robot was developed by Dallas Goecker, an Indiana resident who would "robot in" to Willow Garage in California's Silicon Valley every day. He's now an engineer with Suitable.

Check out the promo vid below. Would you pilot one of these things to you next meeting in another city?