June 27, 2014      

A telepresence robot for home use – smaller and less powerful but a fraction of the price of the original commercial version – will begin rolling out later this summer from RBR50 company Suitable Technologies.

Sutiable, the final spinoff company from the late Willow Garage mini-incubator, recently started taking orders for the Beam+, which is listed at $1,495. It?s 53 inches tall, runs two hours at a time, goes 11 mph, has a 10-inch monitor and has one radio.

For both engineering and regulatory reasons, Beam+ will be available only in the USA to begin with, though Suitable does have a reseller in Europe (France), says director of marketing Erin Rapacki. ?The year 2015 will be a bigger year for us,? Rapacki says.

Beam+ is the little brother, of sorts, to the original BeamPro, a commercial telepresence robot that is still available. The Pro costs much more – $16,000 – is 62 inches tall, runs eight hours, goes 2 mph, has a 17-inch monitor and has two radios. That additional 11 inches makes it closer to the height of an average human, which Rapacki says means the Pro can ?invoke influence? in a business environment.

Anybody with a passing interest in international politics knows about the Beam Pro, even if they haven?t heard its name before. As Forbes points out, ?BeamPro made its debut at CES 2014 and skyrocketed to fame when Edward Snowden used it to give a TED talk from an undisclosed location in Russia.?

Some may wonder why a Beam Pro, a Beam+, or any telepresence robot is markedly better – worth paying thousands of dollars for – than ordinary video chat.

TripleTremelo attempts to answer that question, saying ?this creation of Suitable Technologies is different from applications like FaceTime and Skype, which allow people to communicate by using video calls. The Beam Pro system will allow the robot version of the user to interact both with other Beam Pro telepresence robots and humans.?

Though she?s spent her whole career in robotics, Rapacki doesn?t always like to refer to the Beam Plus as a robot. Rather, she said in a recent telephone interview, ?It?s videoconferencing with realistic sensory experience. It moves and has good audio. We can teleport people in a sense.?

Once people get more accustomed to the concept, they will see, she says, that Beam+ ?helps in ways they couldn?t (previously) imagine.?

As some of the company?s promotional videos show, parents who travel for business can now ?beam home,? and the Beam+ is also potentially useful for elder-care, per Rapacki. ?It can solve people?s real problems? and it ?fulfills need for shared awareness.?

Suitable won the Edison Gold Award for the ?Most Innovative Communications Technology.? This is a program conducted by Edison Universe, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to fostering future innovators. This award is judged on four criteria: concept, value, delivery, and impact, by more than 3,000 senior business executives and academics from across the nation.

At the awards ceremony, Suitable brought two Beam Pros to the Merchant?s Exchange Building, met exhibitors and watched product demonstrations. Executives interacted with innovators at the Gala in the iconic San Francisco Julia Morgan Ballroom. Presenters included Elon Musk and Yan YuanQing.