The Bulletin

Robotic executives are entering the workplace

Posting in Design

"Beam" extends telepresence beyond meeting rooms

A U.S. robotics company is doubling down on an interactive video conferencing unit that is designed to extend an executive's presence beyond the boardroom into the trenches. Even more advanced robots are forthcoming.

Suitable Technologies, maker of the "Beam" robot, announced on Wednesday that it has added virtually the entire staff of "personal robot" R&D company Willow Garage to its team. That makes Beam priority #1.

The Beam robot is a portable "you." It is remotely controlled over Wi-Fi or a 4G connection and comes equipped with HD camera, microphones, and speakers. All data connections are encrypted, because it can travel along with people in the workplace. Its maximum speed it 3MPH, which is about how fast most people walk.

The unit is priced at US$16,000, which is far less expensive than more advanced and functional models that Willow Garage's sells for six-figure price tags. Readwrite's Lauren Orsini reported that Willow Garage wants to sell its stock of robots; its commercial operations are winding down.

Software entrepreneur open source advocate Scott Hassan founded both of the aforementioned companies. His background includes stints at Alexa, Google, and he started eGroups, which was acquired by Yahoo and rebranded as Yahoo Groups. He's one of the people who is shaping the workplace of the future.

You might feel irreplaceable, but robot manufacturers are also equipping some businesses with fully robotic "workers." Farm hands, and robotic seals that comfort dementia patients may not be corporate executives, but NASA has already created a robotic astronaut and a startup is designing robotic caregivers. Manager robots are feasible.

Beam is an example of a remote telepresence robot (Vgo, Double Robotics, and Anybots make them too), but researchers at Hoaloha Robotics are already developing robots that can converse directly with people and be socially interactive - without you. That's what's coming, and it could dramatically reshape human resources.

There's massive computer capacity available in the cloud, so the ability for a robot to eventually outthink a human isn't out of the question. Maybe we'll all one day be taking our cues from Beam 5.0, our cybernetic CEO and overlord. Would you feel comfortable working with a robotic colleague or taking orders from one?

(image credit: Suitable Technologies)

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— By on August 22, 2013, 1:28 PM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure