LAS VEGAS — Cross-country and international travel is expensive. Three or four trips to London, Paris or Taiwan a year and you’re spending at least $16,000. What if you could spend that much and be in Europe and at home as often as you want? That’s what Suitable Technologies’ Beam Remote Presence System promises.
The roughly 5.5-foot-tall system is available now and on display at CES 2013. I got to take it for a drive and have to say, it’s a pretty cool system.
Here’s how it works. Beam connects to your network via a Wi-Fi or cellular broadband connection. It has a large LCD screen atop two slim bars and a rolling base. There’s also a charging station. Beam usually starts there so it’s fully charged when you’re ready to “travel.”
If you’re controlling Beam, your view is via your computer or laptop. You drive Beam with a joystick or, more commonly, the arrow keys on your keyboard, while Beam cruises along at up to 3 miles per hour. Your webcam beams your face to the Beam device, so your disembodied head looks like you’re wherever your Beam is. It’s like your own personal transporter, without the dangerous (and currently impossible) Star Trek hardware.
Controlling Beam is remarkably easy. I got a 30-second tutorial and was soon following someone around Beam’s Palo Alto offices. The display helps guide you by showing directional overlays on top of the video feed that mimic the direction and driving directions you’re sending to the remote presence device. Beam’s two cameras show you what’s ahead of you and what’s at your “feet.”
When you’re done with your remote meeting or making the rounds at a hospital, you simply drive Beam back to its charging station, spin around and back into the charging base.
I had a great time driving Beam around and meeting people at Suitable Technologies’ offices. What would you do with a remote presence device? Let me know in the comments.