It’s been argued that telepresence robots like Beam were among the creepiest gadgets at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, roving tablets on sticks and wheels that allowed Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill to navigate the event from her kitchen and narrowly avoid driving over people’s feet.
Today startup Suitable Technologies is dismissing the skeptics and bringing its Beam to the mainstream. It’s released the smaller and lighter Beam+ for $995 for the first 1,000 units, and $1,995 thereafter — a big drop from the $16,000 it charges to enterprise customers for the original Beam — targeting consumers and business travelers who want a novel way to keep in touch with loved ones.
That also pits it directly against the telepresence robotics company Double Robotics, which makes a $2,500 mount and wheels that, with an iPad, can be driven around offices by remote workers. The Beam+ is smaller than the original Beam and looks a bit more like the Double, except it has a third wheel for stability.
Suitable has a video on its site to show use cases for its Beam+: a grandmother’s disembodied face cooing over her grandkids’ drawings from the Beam+ screen, a business woman eating Chinese food in her hotel room while her Beam+ sidles up to the dinner table with her partner and kids. Suitable suggests using it to tuck your kids into bed from far away, and the 3x digital zoom camera to read the text of a favorite book.
The idea of interacting with people in a freer and more mobile way sounds great on paper, but it’s questionable whether consumers are ready to buy and use a device like this in real life. I’ve tried a Beam myself when I interviewed Suitable’s founder and CEO Scott Hassan for a story last year on the Beam, and found the interface straightforward and the device very easy to use.
Here’s Suitable’s video pitch for the Beam+: