Telepresence robot

Attending Robobusiness Using A Telepresence Robot

Suitable Technologies is planning on having 50 Beam telepresence robotic devices (Fig. 1) at Robobusiness 2013. They will be controlled from around the world from places like Turkey, India, France, and Yardley, PA. I plan on running one at the show and reporting on the Beam and the show. There will be a lot more of Beams (see Any Bot In A Telepresence Storm) wandering the halls of the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

This section is a new addition to the article that I will update as I add more articles and galleries from my time at Robobusiness 2013 using the Suitable Technologies Beam. I will see about linking these together but you can find them all here if you want to check out how things progressed. I'll include feedback on how it was to use the Beam in a wrap up article that will also be listed below.

Now back to the rest of the original article.

Figure 1. The Beam telepresence robot has a large screen with built in audio and video support but most of the weight and compute power is in the mobile base.

At this point I have just finished up my training session with an on-site expert at Suitable Technologies' office in California (Fig. 2). There were a couple robots for training and a young women from Los Angles was learning how to use the Beam with me. We had downloaded the user interface. It requires a camera plus audio support in addition to a Mac or Windows PC.

Figure 2. Everyone using the Beam at Robobusiness first had to do a training at the Suitable Robotics' office. 

The first step was done individually for checking the audio and video. We then had to get feedback from the person on-site about our audio and video. My microphone pickup was too sensitive but a quick slider change fixed that. Probably the most challenging item would be video bandwidth but I have a fiber connection so that didn't seem to be an issue.

The system has keyboard or mouse controls. The keyboard moves the Beam more slowly but I was running around with the mouse. The Beams are about a hundred pounds and can run at 3 miles/hour so you do need to be careful with them. The neat thing about the mousing interface in the bottom center was that you move the mouse to the area to travel to. This is courtesy of a downward looking camera. The application shows three, almost parallel arrows that curve to show where the robot will move. To move there you simply press down on the mouse button. Release to stop.

Moving the cursor to the center of the base in the picture lets you rotate on its axis. We had to dock the unit in the charger where we started. You essentially drive up to it, pivot 180 degrees and back up.

The user interface was easy to use but it does have limitations. It is possible to pan and zoom the front facing camera but the Beam needs to pivot to look around. You need to remember to pivot instead of backing up because there is no rear camera.

Screen shots are possible using the PC but there is no functionality built in. I would have like to done some videos based on this that is another feature that is missing. There are privacy concerns but since the technology already exists to record this information externally from the remote site it is a moot point.

Suprisingly, the video capture is great for general use but it gets fooled by displays including ones on other Beam devices. This is actually typical of cameras and displays and an issue we always wrestle with when shooting Engineering TV videos.

Still, the system is more than sufficient for telepresence work and the interface seems natural after only a little training. We shall see how it works in a room full of people and other robots. I hope I don't roll over anyone's toes or knock over something.

This is the first big test and the hoard of Beams will hopefully not roll over the rest of the attendees toes. It will be interesting to see how everyone reacts and works with the Beams. Of course, it is a robotics show so the gee whiz factor is there.

I'll let you know how it works out.

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