This week at Mobile World Congress, we've seen HTC and Samsung launch their hottest flagship smartphones for 2015. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make the trip to Barcelona, Spain, but that didn't stop me from having a virtual presence at the show.
The internet allows me to stream audio and video, Google Hangouts and Microsoft's Skype technology let me take calls with partners and executives, and telepresence technologies, like the BeamPro and Beam+, bring me virtually to MWC so I can take face-to-face meetings.
While similar in scope to video conferencing solutions, telepresence makes technology more personal and engaging. This means I can work from home with a telepresence robot in the office and follow my colleagues around as they move between conference rooms, rather than requiring my in-office attendees to be tethered to a laptop or re-dial into a video call when they transition between different meeting spaces.
The design of the $16,950 (£11,040, AU$21,685) BeamPro and $1,995 (£1,300, AU$2,560) Beam+ gives other meeting participants a sense that you're physically present. One way to describe the solution is that it's a non-autonomous robot on wheels that looks like a monitor mounted to a stand that's affixed to a Segway. The monitor shows your face, and BeamPro gives your virtual call a physical presence in the room.
Measuring 62 x 15 x 25 inches or 157.5 x 38.1 x 63.5 cm (H x W x D), the BeamPro has a 17-inch mounted display that shows your face in life-size proportion, a six-microphone array, integrated speakers, and an eight-hour battery life.
The Beam+ is slightly more compact at 53 x 12 x 14 inches or 134.6 x 35.6 x 30.5 cm (H x W x D), and it is designed for small office and home use. The Beam+ has a smaller 10-inch display, 4-microphone array, integrated speakers, and eight-hour battery life.
At the top, a wide-angle camera is mounted to give you a view of your surroundings, similar to what you would see if you were walking down a conference hall at MWC.
On the bottom, the wheels and motors allow you to move and steer either Beam units remotely with either a keyboard or mouse. BeamPro can reach speeds up to 2mph, and you can control how fast or slow BeamPro accelerates.
To avoid obstacles while maneuvering Beam, a second wide-angled camera is angled downwards, giving you a clear view of where Beam is headed. This allows you to steer clear of obstructions to your path, avoid running over someone's toes, and see where stairs are so you don't accidentally tumble. It's similar to a backup camera mounted to the rear of a car for parking assistance.
Beam me up!
Beaming works when you have a telepresence BeamPro or Beam+ unit set up at a remote location. In my case, a BeamPro was set up in Barcelona on the show floor of Mobile World Congress. On my Mac at home, I downloaded the Beam software, connected to the BeamPro unit, and steered my telepresence robot around the show floor.
Using BeamPro, I interviewed conference attendees, virtually "walked" the show floor by steering BeamPro, and engaged in lively discussions and viewed demos from the comfort of my desk - things that would not have been possible with a simple video conference solution alone. In essence, it gave my a physical presence at MWC without requiring downtime for flights.
I wouldn't have been able to frequent the various booths or get live demos, see attendee reactions, or experience the excitement with traditional video conference. While traditional video conferencing is designed for a quiet room, BeamPro takes me to the heart of the action.
Similarly, executives could use BeamPro to attend meetings at the office while they're traveling for work or check in on the manufacturing facility in China from a design office from, say, Cupertino, California.