Beam into work: The future is here

by HCA04 Jan 2013

It’s the stuff of science fiction, yet in Silicon Valley, this is just another day at the office.

‘Beaming’ into work is made possible by a robotic mobile video-conferencing machine, which drives around offices and workshops giving a ‘physical presence’ for remote-working employees.

The machine is a 5-ft tall device complete with a large video screen, speakers and microphone, making employees feel as though their colleague is actually there.

Engineer Dallas Goecker from Suitable Technologies in Silicon Valley is one worker who utilises the ‘Beam’ on a daily basis. “This gives you that casual interaction that you're used to at work,” Goecker told AP, speaking on a Beam. “I'm sitting in my desk area with everybody else. I'm part of their conversations and their socialising.”

Suitable Technologies, which makes the Beam, is now one of more than a dozen companies that sell the 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 even “walk” in faraway locations.

More and more employees are working remotely, thanks to computers, smartphones, email, instant messaging and video-conferencing. Critics say these types of new technologies are no substitute for actually being in the office, where casual face-to-face conversations allow for easy collaboration and company solidarity.

However before panic ensues, these robotic stand-ins are still a long way from going mainstream. Just a very small number of organisations use them, as the machines expensive, difficult to navigate and can even get stuck if they venture into areas with poor Internet connectivity.

“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?"


  • by John 4/01/2013 3:44:54 PM

    Oh we really need an artificial presence in thwe workplace to stay connected if working remotely? Now, I would be the first to say that having a robot version of some employees would be a blessing rather than them being in the office, particularly if you can sneak up on them and hit the 'off' switch, but this is probably just a bit of boys toys for tech geeks rather than adding any real value for remote work.

    Actually, you could probably have all sorts of fun with a robot version. How about taping a beach image in front of the camera? Or the image of the back of an airliner seat while playing jet engione noises into the microphone (Robby the Robot goes on vacation?). It would be real easy to be making rabbits ears behind someone on a monitor.

    The opportunity for hilarity could be endless.

    Any other ideas?

  • by MM 4/01/2013 4:31:41 PM

    And Sheldon did this in Big Bang theory - when he decided to stay in bed. Leonard even had to drive this "robot Sheldon" to work.