What it Means to Have Remote Presence

Some people may be wondering, what exactly do we mean by “remote presence”, and what makes something a remote presence device? For example, is a cell phone a remote presence device? And why is it important?

Remote presence refers to a system or device that enables people separated by distance to communicate, collaborate, and understand each other as if they shared the same physical space, without losing effectiveness over time.

Beam being pilotedRemote presence is still a fairly new concept, but the team at Suitable has already spent years researching and understanding how it can change the ways people work and communicate. We’ve used several generations of these devices ourselves, and now have many employees who rely on them daily.

Many devices or products can create a feeling of remote presence for a short period. For example, computer video chat can bring someone remote into a meeting, or a live television broadcast can make viewers feel like they’re seeing an event in person. However, none of these could be said to have a permanent effect. Eventually, the illusion fades.

A remote presence device can be used constantly or intermittently, but always conveys an authentic feeling of “being there”, for parties on both sides. Furthermore, when using a remote presence device, the operator, or “pilot,” should never feel disadvantaged, or handicapped, compared to humans at the same location, or “locals.”

These are the key components of being there:

Ability to move freely You must be able to move in all directions, at human speed. Anywhere people can go, you can too. When people move, you can stay with them.

Not needing to ask for help You can get through a normal day without assistance from anyone. Requiring help, even for small tasks, will quickly erode any feelings of autonomy, and create a burden for the locals who must constantly assist you.

Visual awareness You can see what a person can see, not only in terms of focus, but also peripheral awareness. Having a narrow focus (as many cameras do) leads to tunnel vision, which feels like a significant disadvantage compared to local people.

Audial awareness You can hear what a person can hear. This requires clear, spatialized audio, so you can pick out sounds and know where they’re coming from. You can have long conversations without any noticeable fatigue.

Human size To feel like a person, you must be treated like a person. And to be treated like a person, you must look like a person. Humans have developed sophisticated forms of non-verbal communication, such as posture, showing focus, and movement. True presence requires that you be able to participate in this communication.

Reliability The only tools that will become a regular part of your life are the ones you can count on, every time. This is especially true for remote presence, where the tool represents your very existence. An unreliable system is simply intolerable.

How Beam Measures Up

We believe Beam is the most effective remote presence device available on the market today.

The ability to move freely comes from our fast, powerful, electric motors. You can turn in place, move smoothly and low and high speed, and at a top speed of 1.5 m/s, keep up with any walking person. Furthermore, Beam is sturdy and powerful enough to act in its environment. If there’s a chair in your way, simply push it. Though it’s not able to activate door handles, it can push doors open or closed.

Beam’s long battery life and docking station enable all-day operation without any assistance. Nobody needs to plug it in for you, and nobody needs to hook up any accessories (such as an iPad or tablet).

Visual awareness is excellent, thanks to two HD cameras with custom wide-angle lenses. Peripheral vision is comparable to a person’s, and our digital zoom lets you focus on details.

The audio quality from Beam is outstanding, thanks to our custom six-microphone array and audio processing algorithms. Background noise reduction and echo cancellation enable you to focus on what people are saying.

After much experimentation, we settled on a height of 5’ 2” (1.58m) for Beam. This height is comfortable for both standing and sitting interaction, isn’t too tall to be threatening, and isn’t too short to be overlooked.

Finally, we’ve worked for years on the technical details that make Beam reliable, and solved many difficult problems along the way. WiFi connectivity is notoriously tricky, but our two dual-band radios, and proprietary networking algorithms, provide wireless connectivity that is unmatched. Our audio and video can handle the challenges of a mobile system. And all communication in our system is encrypted.

You can learn more about Beam, see photos and our product video, and get in touch with us on our site: http://www.suitabletech.com

Josh Tyler Director of Software Engineering, Suitable Technologies