Telepresence robots have been around for quite a while, but they haven't exactly been the sort of thing the average consumer's capable of affording. Just take Suitable Technologies' Beam, which costs about $16,000 per unit. While I'm certain there are a few well-off folks who'd be perfectly capable of affording such a costly device, it's not really made for the public; the Beam's designed for the business world and made for enterprise professionals who want to cut down on travel expenses.
Suitable Technologies believes, however, that there's a market for telepresence devices outside of enterprise. When discussing his company at CES 2014, CEO Scott Hassan mentioned that he himself uses a Beam to communicate with his kids while he's on the road. The robot, he explained, allows him to speak with his kids almost as though he were present in their home.
With that conversation in mind, it doesn't really come as much of a surprise that Suitable Technologies last week unveiled the Beam +, a telepresence robot designed with consumers in mind. It's available at a fraction of the price of the original model; $995.00 for the first thousand units and then $1,995 for every unit sold thereafter. In other words, it doesn't cost anything more than a flat-screen TV or a new computer.
What's more, Hassan and his staff have designed the robot to be effectively effortless to use. All a user needs to do to get it up and running is hook it up to wireless, and they're good to go. They can effortlessly keep in touch with their friends and family while away; the 53-inch-high robot has a two hour battery life, and can be controlled either via touch-screen mobile device or mouse.
That's cool and all, but...how exactly did Suitable Technologies manage to slash the price of the Beam by such a large margin? Going from $16,000 to just shy of $2,000 isn't exactly a small leap, after all. What's the difference between the Beam and the Beam +?
According to Hassan, the main difference lies in what materials his team used. Rather than metals, the frame and body of the device is made of durable plastics. The display, meanwhile, is a slightly less-expensive, commodity-grade tablet screen.
Telepresence robots aren't anything new in the business world, but they're definitely not the sort of thing you'd ordinarily see sitting around the house. Suitable Technologies aims to change that. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not they'll be successful.