Beam Me Up: The Internet of Things Meets the Internet of People

Suitable Technologies' BeamPro lets individuals "beam" into remote locations for meetings or experiences. Now, the company is entering the consumer market with the smaller, more affordable Beam+, designed for home use.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 04, 2014

As soon as I sat down with Scott Hassan at the opening party for his company's pop-up store, located at an enviable location in Palo Alto's busy University Ave. corridor, he looked slightly away from me, as if into space, and gently bobbed his head up and to the right. It took me a millisecond to realize what he was doing: responding to some alert in his Google Glass viewfinder. Ironically, his company, Suitable Technologies, makes a product that uses technology to improve person-to-person—not person-to-wearable-computer—communication.

The BeamPro, the firm's flagship product, is a robot with motorized wheels, as well as a video monitor, a camera, a speaker and microphones mounted on a pair of 4-foot-tall support posts rising from its base. It's designed to enable any person anywhere in the world to "beam into" the robot's physical location. In do doing, the user can visit with other people in the vicinity of the robot via a two-way video feed (similar to a Skype video call), navigate the device through that space, and interact visually and audibly within that defined area.

An attendee at the Beam pop-up store grand opening party chats with a woman based overseas.
To use the BeamPro, all a person needs is a computer running the Beam software, as well as a reliable Wi-Fi connection, a webcam, a microphone and speakers. The company is opening its first pop-up shop, through which it is selling its latest product, the Beam+. A scaled-down iteration of the BeamPro, the Beam+ is designed for consumers. It features a 10-inch video monitor, which is 7 inches smaller than that of the BeamPro. Its battery lasts for only two hours of usage before requiring a recharge, compared with the Pro's eight hours. And it has only a single Wi-Fi radio, compared to the two built into the Pro, to ensure constant connectivity even within a large office.

Hassan said several Fortune 500 companies own BeamPros and keep them at corporate headquarters to allow executives to attend meetings virtually while out of town, or to facilitate meetings with clients, as an alternative to in-the-flesh meetings. (Due to non-disclosure agreements, he said, he could not reveal the names of these firms.) Payment company Square has been vocal about its use of BeamPro to do the same, as has entrepreneur Peter H. Diamandis, the chairman and CEO of X Prize Foundation, who filmed a testimonial that can be viewed on YouTube:

Suitable Technologies is not looking to compete against virtual meeting services, such as Cisco's TelePresence, a virtual conferencing tool, Hassan noted. "TelePresence works great for meetings in which groups of people on either end need to speak to each other," he explained, "but the Beam is great for enabling an individual to be inside a different space."

Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) whistle blower, beamed into the TED2014 conference from an undisclosed location in Russia, in order to participate in an on-stage interview. Individuals with disabilities have also been using the Beam and other telepresence and robotics technologies, for adaptive applications. Henry Evens, a quadriplegic who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., used Beam for a TEDx Mid-Atlantic event last year. (TED is a well-known conference series about technology entertainment and design, while TEDx events are local offshoots of the main TED annual conference.)

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