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Telepresence robots let employees ‘beam’ into work

Engineer Dallas Goecker attends meetings, jokes with colleagues and roams the office building just like other employees at his company in Silicon Valley.

But Goecker isn’t in California. He’s more than 2,300 miles away, working at home in Seymour, Indiana.

It’s all made possible by the Beam – a mobile video-conferencing machine that he can drive around his company’s offices and workshops in Palo Alto. The five-foot-tall device, topped with a large video screen, gives him a physical presence that makes him and his colleagues feel like he’s actually there.

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The robot allows mobile video conferencing

 Telepresence Robot

“This gives you that casual interaction that you’re used to at work,” Goecker said, speaking on a Beam. “I’m sitting in my desk area with everybody else. I’m part of their conversations and their socializing.”

Suitable Technologies, which makes the Beam, is now one of more than a dozen companies that sell so-called telepresence robots. These remote-controlled machines are equipped with video cameras, speakers, microphones and wheels that allow users to see, hear, talk and “walk” in faraway locations.

More and more employees are working remotely, thanks to computers, smartphones, email, instant messaging and video-conferencing. But those technologies are no substitute for actually being in the office, where casual face-to-face conversations allow for easy collaboration and camaraderie.

Telepresence-robot makers are trying to bridge that gap with wheeled machines – controlled over wireless Internet connections – that give remote workers a physical presence in the workplace.

These robotic stand-ins are still a long way from going mainstream, with only a small number of organizations starting to use them. The machines can be expensive, difficult to navigate or even get stuck if they venture into areas with poor Internet connectivity. Stairs can be lethal, and non-techies might find them too strange to use regularly.

“There are still a lot of questions, but I think the potential is really great,” said Pamela Hinds, co-director of Stanford University’s Center on Work, Technology, & Organization. “I don’t think face-to-face is going away, but the question is, how much face-to-face can be replaced by this technology?”

Technology watchers say these machines – sometimes called remote presence devices – could be used for many purposes. They could let managers inspect overseas factories, salespeople greet store customers, family members check on elderly relatives or art lovers to tour foreign museums.

Some physicians are already seeing patients in remote hospitals with the RP-VITA robot co-developed by Santa-Barbara, Calif.,-based InTouch Health and iRobot, the Bedford, Mass.,-based maker of the Roomba vacuum.

The global market for telepresence robots is projected to reach $13 billion by 2017, said Philip Solis, research director for emerging technologies at ABI Research.

The robots have attracted the attention of Russian venture capitalist Dimitry Grishin, who runs a $25 million fund that invests in early-stage robotics companies.

“It’s difficult to predict how big it will be, but I definitely see a lot of opportunity,” Grishin said. “Eventually it can be in each home and each office.”

His Grishin Robotics fund recently invested $250,000 in a startup called Double Robotics. The Sunnyvale, Calif.,-company started selling a Segway-like device called the Double that holds an Apple iPad, which has a built-in video-conferencing system called FaceTime. The Double can be controlled remotely from an iPad or iPhone.

So far, Double Robotics has sold more than 800 units that cost $1,999 each, said co-founder Mark DeVidts.

The Beam got its start as a side project at Willow Garage, a robotics company in Menlo Park where Goecker worked as an engineer.

A few years ago, he moved back to his native Indiana to raise his family, but he found it difficult to collaborate with engineering colleagues using existing video-conferencing systems.

“I was struggling with really being part of the team,” Goecker said. “They were doing all sorts of wonderful things with robotics. It was hard for me to participate.”

So Goecker and his colleagues created their own telepresence robot. The result: the Beam and a new company to develop and market it.

At $16,000 each, the Beam isn’t cheap. But Suitable Technologies says it was designed with features that make “pilots” and “locals” feel the remote worker is physically in the room: powerful speakers, highly sensitive microphones and robust wireless connectivity.

The company began shipping Beams last month, mostly to tech companies with widely dispersed engineering teams, officials said.

“Being there in person is really complicated – commuting there, flying there, all the different ways people have to get there. Beam allows you to be there without all that hassle,” said CEO Scott Hassan, beaming in from his office at Willow Garage in nearby Menlo Park.

Not surprisingly, Suitable Technologies has fully embraced the Beam as a workplace tool. On any given day, up to half of its 25 employees “beam” into work, with employees on Beams sitting next to their flesh-and-blood colleagues and even joining them for lunch in the cafeteria.

Software engineer Josh Faust beams in daily from Hawaii, where he moved to surf, and plans to spend the winter hitting the slopes in Lake Tahoe. He can’t play ping-pong or eat the free, catered lunches in Palo Alto, but he otherwise feels like he’s part of the team.

“I’m trying to figure out where exactly I want to live. This allows me to do that without any of the instability of trying to find a different job,” Faust said, speaking on a Beam from Kaanapali, Hawaii. “It’s pretty amazing.”

 

[source : Tech2]

Telepresence

4 comments

  1. Wavatar

    I have to measure (NOT calculate) the load of the object in the free finish of the cantilever beam.

    What is the device will be able to couple this beam to that particular can provide me the load of the object in the finish from it? The load will gradually decrease after a while.

    My thought would be to appraise the deflection from the beam with some form of load cell but any suggestions are welcome.

  2. Wavatar

    Hi, I’ve ranch style home. I must remove a barring wall, And then leave it open it is a 18′ feet 7″ inch opening , and I am thinking about setting up a steel beam to ensure that i might take away the barring wall that supporting the ceiling and rafters. The house is all about 57′ ft lengthy 28′ ft 7″ inch wide which is 13′ ft high in the floor to the top roof ridge. I heard there’s aluminum beams however i never heard about that, I have only heard about steel beams. I’d rather not use wood.

    I’d like to just how considerably longer will i require the beam is the opening could be 18’7″ as well as the extra which i will have to put on the market wall to carry the beam up, will i allow it to be 2′ ft bigger in order to possess a feet on both sides that will take a seat on a block wall. or will i require more then that.

    Interesting help

  3. Wavatar

    I’m creating a strengthened concrete beam in my project. in my design beam, i calculated the flexural reinforcing ?=.00156 that is more compact than ?(min)=.0033. is the fact that imply that I am unable to utilize it and also have to resign my beam?

  4. Wavatar

    I am a gymnast and lately I received my cartwheel on beam. The other next day of which i bent my arms and wound up side ways from the beam spraining my feet. Now i’m so scared to perform a cartwheel on beam. I usually arch my back and also have my mind before my arms and never turn my sides like I’m designed to. Help, how do i overcome my fear?? and obtain my cartwheel to perfect enjoy it was before.

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