Where to Find Robots at SXSW 2017

South By Southwest® (SXSW), the eagerly anticipated, annual conference in Austin, TX is known as the place to look for the year’s most compelling emerging technologies. Dedicated to giving international professionals the chance to learn, participate and network, the focus is always on what’s next – and predictably, robotics and AI dominate this year’s offerings in the Interactive track of the conference.

With nearly 50 sessions related to and about robotics planned ranging from  from “Intelligent Future,” to the role our industry plays in Code, Design, Food, Government, Health, Film, Sports and Music – robots are, quite literally, everywhere at SXSW.

So while you might come to see everyone from former Vice President Joe Biden speak to the Wu-Tang Clan perform, you’ll stay for the compelling, cutting-edge presentations and discussions at SXSW Interactive, which co-founder and 2017 Mentor Louis Black says, “has probably been the biggest of its kind in the world since 2007.”

T  Whether you attend SXSW or not, these topics expose what’s on everyone’s mind when it comes to the role of robotics and telepresence technologies today and in the not-so-distant future. To get the latest on how humans and robots will interact and where you can expect to see them in your everyday life, the following sessions caught our eye;

Interacting With (and via) Robots:

Robots Can Restore Our Humanity

March 11, 2017 | 12:30PM – 1:30PM | Hilton Austin Downtown, 500 E. 4th Street, Salon K

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Robots and AI very well might be the catalysts that we needed to redefine work and restore our humanity. Now that technology can handle the algorithm-driven, standardized, repetitive heavy lifting, we may well have the chance to redefine work to emphasize all that we humans bring to the table that robots and AI can’t, including creativity, curiosity and emotional and social intelligence. This begs the question, then, how will employers respond to and facilitate this major transformation?

The Sound of Robots

March 15, 2017 | 3:30PM – 4:30PM | JW Marriott, 110 E. 2nd Street, Salon 6

You are already well-acquainted with the sound of robots – perhaps just this morning you asked Siri to text a friend or Alexa to give you the weather report. But there are deeper issues that need to be examined related to the rise in humans conversing with robots, including the influence of voice on perceptions of robot personality, if robots should be listening to our private conversations (or not), and even if robo-snark is appropriate in response to a person being provocative or downright rude. (Just try asking Siri if she’s intelligent…)

I Speak Robot

March 12, 2017 | 11:00AM – 12:00PM | JW Marriott, 110 E. 2nd Street, Salon 8

This session examines the question, “How important is it that we design robots to communicate emotions and intentions like humans?” To the presenters of the panel who hail from both academia and the private sector, while there is some push for human qualities in robots, there will also be some ’bot-specific characteristics (i.e., a movement, a lurch or even a new form of communication) that will then become its own new language: robot.

Democratizing the Industrial Robot

March 14, 2017 | 12:30PM – 1:30PM | JW Marriott, 110 E. 2nd Street, Salon 7

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Robots working in industrial settings is nothing new; since the 1970s, they’ve become commonplace handling repetitive tasks in well-defined, restricted ways. In the next 10 years, this will continue with one big difference: the environment will change and more and more, robots will become “cobots,” working side by side on the factory floor with human beings. This represents a huge shift, one that requires robots to work in unstructured environments, interact often with people and guarantee superior sensitivity for human safety. The possibilities are major, as are the implications of the evolution of the industrial workplace.

Redefining Presence to Transform Healthcare:

Merging Senior Care and Technology at Home

Mar 14, 2017 | 3:30PM – 4:30PM | Austin Convention Center, 500 E Cesar Chavez, Room 9C

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Technological advances have paved the way for older adults to age at home. As health tech innovators expand their role in the longevity marketplace, there are both opportunities and challenges, such as conflicting healthcare models that may curtail innovation and adoption. This panel of health practitioners who are also tech entrepreneurs will discuss the positive impact technology has on seniors, how it is evolving attitudes about aging and what progressive actions are needed to further the aging at home movement.

The Future of Dynamic Innovations in Healthcare

Mar 11, 2017 | 9:30AM – 10:30AM | Austin Convention Center, 500 E Cesar Chavez, Room 9AB

Healthcare innovators are helping doctors use technology in ways you’ve never before imagined, from making virtual house calls for simple diagnoses and treatments to automating patient engagement and allowing doctors and patients to remotely discuss pre- and post-surgical care. This session explores today’s telemedicine and also gives a glimpse at the future of remote health care.

If you can’t make it to SXSW, you can check out their live stream going on during the event or post-conference videos on their YouTube channel. While we won’t be there this year, we are thrilled to see that our industry is well represented by such a diverse array of visionaries, teachers, developers, designers, professionals and of course, a perennial favorite — this guy:

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At Suitable Technologies, we see a bright future of humans and robots working together to solve the biggest problems we face – from the future of work to education to healthcare to simply being able to have a face-to-face conversation with anyone in the world – we’ll be able to do more together.

Our Favorite Moments at Robotics Alley

We just got back from a couple days in Minneapolis, MN where we attended the sixth annual Robotics Alley Conference & Expo to get the latest on what’s happening in the world of robotics.

And it wasn’t just Suitable Technologies’ employees who attended; this year we provided a number of Beam Smart Presence Systems for the conference so that speakers, panelists and guests from far-flung places including Florida and California could present, sit in on breakout panels and walk the expo floor.

To kick off the event, Nilesh Mohan, the 2016 Robotics Alley Conference Chair and director of Supply Chain Engineering at Target, began with a splash by Beaming in to welcome the enthusiastic crowd to two days of thought-provoking presentations, panels, breakout sessions and networking events. Robotics Alley is an initiative founded by ReconRobotics and the Minnesota High Tech Association and was designed to support the development of public-private partnerships in the business, research, and development of the world’s foremost robotics and automation systems.

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“Robotics Alley loves to showcase innovative ways that robots can make your business more efficient, and so we’re delighted to welcome Beam to this year’s event to demonstrate its technology,” said Eileen Manning, Executive Producer of Robotics Alley.

With more than 500 international leaders from all areas of robotics and automation including research, design, engineering, business development, investment, law, and public policy, we enjoyed hearing leading-edge information about a variety of aspects of our industry.

Among the highlights:

The conference’s kick off keynote speech on “Automation Ethics” by Jacob Ward, former Editor-in-Chief of Popular Science and current PBS and Al Jazeera correspondent, brought forth a number of compelling questions, including, “Who do you sue when a robot car crashes?” and “What happens when voice-recognition software becomes confused by an adult suffering from dementia?” As robotics and automation becomes increasingly integrated into our everyday life, the ethical aspects become more and more prevalent – and in need of addressing.

The second day of the conference featured a fascinating keynote address by Executive R&D Imagineer Martin Buehler of Walt Disney Imagineering. For the millions of people who visit Disney Parks worldwide, there is no happier place on earth, thanks to the magic created by people like Buehler. In his speech, Buehler discussed the approaches, challenges and future of advanced robotics and how he and his colleagues use the technology to devise the fantastic attractions and bring beloved Disney characters of all shapes and sizes to life. He also made a compelling case for why we all are (or, as he argued, should be) in the robot experiences business, regardless of what industry we actually are in.

The “March of the Robots,” is always a Robotics Alley Conference & Expo highlight, where Minnesota-based middle and high school students showcase robots they have designed and built. This year two all-female groups, the Rubies and Ponytail Posse, marched to not only show-off their robots but also to “break the stereotype” and illustrate the fruits of encouraging girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  

And one more thing made the Robotics Alley Conference & Expo special — learning what the opposite of a sunbeam is:

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Thanks to the Robotics Alley Conference & Expo for another educational, informative and fun event!

 

 

How Our Own Remote Retail Clerks Are Changing “In-Store” Experiences – For Good

Beam Product Specialist Austen Trainer will tell you that he spends his time working at our Palo Alto, CA Suitable Technologies Beam Store educating people about telepresence technology: the general concept, specific uses, and technical details.

What he might not mention is that he’s actually physically more than 100 miles away from the store at his home in Davis, CA, sitting in his favorite chair, wearing a pair of comfy sweats, answering questions about Beam, with his dog at his side.

This is just one of the perks about Beaming into work, or any other remote location for that matter. In fact, we decided that having an entirely remotely operated storefront would be one of the best ways to drive home the reliability that Beam technology brings to the table. It’s been over 2 years now and the store still is a destination for many tech seeking companies visiting downtown Palo Alto.

Thanks to the positive response – the store is even a stop on some Silicon Valley tech tours – it’s now a permanent retail location fully staffed by remote workers like Austen in Davis and Kema Johnson, who Beams in from her home in Denver, CO.

The future of robots – in customer service, retail, and beyond

Like Austen, Kema appreciates being able to work remotely and also feels empowered by the innovations in the retail industry that she’s ushering in as a Product Specialist and Beam Pilot.

“If we have done our job right, you, the customer, should walk out of the store inspired, whether it’s seeing how you can spend more time with your relative who lives abroad; how you can have the ability to attend meetings that you may have not been able to; how much being able to Beam somewhere reduces your frustration and alleviates the cost of traveling… there are so many applications I have yet to think of but that always emerge as I talk to the visitors who come into the store.”

While tech-savvy sales processing is certainly part of the daily equation, having fun with customers and seeing how people react to interacting with a telepresence robot is what keeps the job interesting and unpredictable.

“People really lose their inhibitions when they think you’re a computer program,” says Austen. “The number one question I get is, ‘Wait, is that real?’, followed closely by ‘What’s to stop me from stealing you?’ or ‘What are you going to do now?’ as they cover the camera with their hand.”

Store manager Michelle Posey, who oversees the 12 Product Specialists, encourages her staff to get outside to mix and mingle with pedestrians – and on occasion, take a jaunt outside to visit nearby retailers.

“Recently we decided to venture around downtown Palo Alto on Beam and visit our neighbors at the store C.R.E.A.M. We rolled across the street, and waited in line patiently with the other patrons on a busy Saturday night, and once we got to the counter, ordered a bunch of ice cream sandwiches for our guests back at the Beam store.”

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And while all customers may not get to enjoy a “Beam ’n Cream,” what they do get at the Beam store is to experience the future of customer service robots in retail, which is now being tested in other stores.

Beaming has its benefits

As for our Product Specialists, the perks go beyond being able to work from the comfort of their own homes and delight customers with the novelty of interacting with a telepresence robot.

When Austen first started working at the Beam store, he had been living in Southern California for a couple of years and hadn’t seen his dad for most of that time. One day his father had business in the Bay Area, so he stopped by to see Austen “in person.”

“It was awesome to get a chance to use Beam to connect with my own family, and it really confirmed my faith in the product,” Austen says.

For Kema, hearing customers’ stories and helping them see how profoundly Beam can change their lives is the most gratifying part of the job.

“I sold a Beam to a family who had an elderly relative with dementia who lived in a different state from them. Their entire family is now able to eat dinner with Grandma and check in on her as much as they’d like without her having to do anything at all. It is a powerful concept to have the Pilot in complete control from their smartphone, smart tablet or computer.”

At the end of the day, the life of a Beam Product Specialist is anything but remote; it’s a powerful way to make real-world connections, both professional and personal.

 
The Beam Store is located at 425 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301, (855) 200-2326. Come visit us in person, or Beam into the store!

The Future is Now

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For more than 50 years, The Institute for the Future (IFTF), an independent, 50-person non-profit think tank, has been helping a variety of organizations “make the futures they want” by “providing practical foresight for a world undergoing rapid change.”

As futurists, it’s a priority for IFTF to not just research the new technology that is transforming our world, but also to actually experience it firsthand. For nearly two years, they have been using Beam (Plus and Pro models) to virtually bring remote users (i.e. researchers, affiliates, thought leaders, clients and others) in to collaborate at their downtown Palo Alto offices.

From the start, IFTF staff including Research Director Lyn Jeffery, Affiliate Researcher and “culture hacker,” Mike Zuckerman and Program Director Dylan Hendricks were struck by what Beam means for the future of work and relationships in general, as well as how quickly it shifted the dynamic in their own workplace.

The ability to have a physical presence in a given space – gesturing, moving around and interacting at eye level – elevates digital communication to a more human interaction. This, combined with the ease of moving from space to space, makes Beam users feel, as Jeffery explains, “like [it’s] part of you.”

Hendricks appreciates not just the work applications but also the personal implications: “The moment I’m done working, I want to be playing with my little kids. Now the commute is instantaneous and has made my work life just so much more sustainable than it was before.”

For Zuckerman, the social nuances of using the smart presence are what are striking to him. From the ability for individuals to “mix and mingle,” to the fun of seeing who’s Beaming in at a given time, it offers a sociability that’s not present with video chat or conferencing.

Recent upgrades, which include extended battery life, now making it possible for IFTF staff and associates to participate in all day meetings, make Beam, according to Hendricks, “less of a machine that you choose or not use and more like a capacity that you now have permanently as part of your office.”

All agree that they now can’t imagine their lives without Beam.

Watch to see the Beam in action at IFTF headquarters and hear more from Jeffery, Zuckerman and Hendricks:

For more on IFTF and their advice on office etiquette for Beam users, click here .

How Remote Presence Robots Bring Nurses and Patients Together

Technology in medicine

For the last several years, talk of ongoing nursing shortages has been a news staple, thanks in large part to our aging population of Baby Boomers who require more healthcare services as they get older. For example, Boomers are projected to fuel a 75 percent increase in the number of Americans ages 65+ requiring nursing home care, to about 2.3 million in 2030 from 1.3 million in 2010. 

And the shortage issues go beyond the graying of America. According to Ed Salsberg, MPH, who for decades has been studying nursing workforce issues at the George Washington University School of Nursing, another major source of the problem is distribution. While some parts of the country have plenty of nurses, others suffer from a significant dearth of RN’s – especially in rural and poverty-stricken communities.

So what’s the cure for this growing societal ailment?

Robots.

The use of robotic technology in the healthcare field is nothing new; in fact, within five years, one in three surgeries is expected to be performed with robotic assistance.

In Japan, which has the greatest life expectancy in the world (nearly 88 years old for men and women combined), the use of robots to administer care and perform simple tasks like delivering medicine or taking patients’ vital signs is becoming more and more common.

Still, the idea that robots will replace, rather than assist, primary healthcare providers is in the distant future. From ethical concerns to being able to accurately deal with complex health issues, nothing currently can take the place of a real, live nurse or other healthcare professional.

This is where telepresence robots come in.

As Robohub points out, telepresence robots don’t render people obsolete; they just extend their reach, much like the telephone did when it was introduced.

The complementary nature of the nurse/telepresence robots relationship makes it possible to deploy nurses where they’re needed most. From home health care calls to check on elderly patients to having an RN work from her home at a clinic in another state that desperately needs nursing assistance, the benefits and possibilities of robot nursing are clear – and more and more, becoming a reality.

While a telepresence robot might not be able to empty a bedpan or take someone’s temperature, the remote nurse has the ability to monitor a patient and when necessary, take a close look and listen to make suggestions for next steps in care.

Just like having a nurse at your bedside, the robot nurse’s reassuring voice and face goes a long way to help in the healing process.

So while robots might not be the ultimate cure for the nursing shortage, it’s a solution that helps us all feel a lot better.

 

Robots are the Future of Work – And That’s a Good Thing for Us Humans

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The notion of technology taking over our jobs is nothing new – from the imagined future of the beloved 1960s cartoon, The Jetsons to today, when Alexa does our shopping and orders our pizzas, human beings have been waiting for a tipping point where our work will be done by a machine.

And yet, rumors of our economic demise thanks to technological advancements have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, a new report from McKinsey Global Institute  shows that while robots will shift how work is done – from low-skill jobs all the way to higher paying, more highly skilled positions – it will also open up new employment opportunities.

This resonates here at Suitable Technologies; from our perspective, technology isn’t “taking over” — it’s improving our livelihoods and lives. And we have history backing this assertion; just as electric washing machines and dryers replaced people (mainly women) who washed clothing by hand in the early 20th century and freed them up to use that time for other pursuits, including joining the work force to bring new values and ideas into play, so too will robots and other smart technology afford people more time for new creative projects and opportunities to contribute in ways that will make the world a better place.

So while it’s true that many jobs have been replaced by automation and certainly more will be supplanted over time (although as McKinsey reports it’ll be much more gradual and nuanced than imagined), what is occurring now — what will dominate the future — is a partnership between working people and technologists.

Technology is obviously a focus for us at Suitable. We often find ourselves talking about connecting people with Beam, as opposed to people “having” a Beam, the way you have an iPhone or a TV. It’s not a static device because what it does is create bridges. It fosters interaction and partnerships.

We may be shifting away from certain kinds of jobs — for example, will self-driving trucks replace truck drivers? The trucks and the technology that operates them still need to be designed and built. And improved. And replaced with something better.

Technologists are the new working people. We’re incorporating technology into everything we do. Kids learn to code as they learn to read. Coding is the new math; Fisher-Price makes a toy called a Code-A-Pillar to teach 3-year-olds the basics.

There are so many great examples of technology + human partnerships. This is an exciting combination of talent; the Mayo Clinic uses its da Vinci surgical system, with robotic arms and cameras, to “perform delicate and complex procedures that may have been difficult or impossible with other methods.” New York University has a similar program, which boasts less trauma, faster recovery and more precise results. I bet we all know of someone whose life has been touched, or even saved, by the powerful combination of a human and a robot. By a modern technologist.

Technology has been an equal partner in helping astronauts do their jobs since the inception of the space program. Drones are helping farmers take a closer look at their fields and irrigation systems, resulting in healthier crops and increased yields. Just like drones, Beam enables people to be where they want to be, for exactly the amount of time they want to be there, with a more human touch, of course.

You can’t beat the teaming up of smart technology and smart technologists. We believe this partnership will help us build a future that includes everyone.

 

 

Robots: From Outer Space to Your Dinner Table

Last week I had the opportunity to attend CES and I noticed the rise in both robots and robotics. That got me thinking…the word “robot” means a lot of different things to different people. If you’re a Baby Boomer, you think of the robot from the TV show “Lost in Space” (which, by the way, was named Robot) with some fondness; it got young Will Robinson out of trouble more often than not and was worth its weight in, well, space dust. Gen X’ers think of R2D2 and C3PO from the “Star Wars” movies. If you’re a Millennial, maybe the word conjures up images of “Mr. Roboto” and Styx.

Whatever the word means to you, it’s probably a positive connotation. Robots were/are designed to help us, to be partners. That’s why many of them look like us. Webster’s dictionary defines “robot” as “a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being.” We’re fascinated by them; walking, talking computers that (seem to) enjoy performing tasks we humans would consider odious, or frightening. Military robots save lives by acting as advance “scouts” on patrol. Urban police teams use bomb-sniffing robots instead of risking lives. Dallas police officers even used a robot to kill a sniper earlier this year.

There has certainly been a side-by-side rise in robotics that’s been cause for some concern, as in drones or autonomous cars that aren’t perfected yet. But robots are a different story. We’ve all seen the videos of Boston Dynamics team members kicking their four-legged “dog” robot, Spot. Trying to throw the dog off balance helps the dog be a better robot. The videos are kind of tough to watch, because we feel connected to the dog robot, even though we’re fully aware that the mechanical dog can’t feel pain or be embarrassed about being kicked. It looks so much like a dog that we have trouble thinking of it as a robot. We don’t want them to kick the dog.

Beam isn’t technically a robot — it’s remote-operated by a person — but it calls to mind a robot. It doesn’t look like a robot; it looks like the person who is piloting it. Because of this, people develop a genuine affinity for Beams (even more so than the “dog.”) They make us smile, whether it’s a friendly face on a factory floor, a loved one joining you for dinner, a classmate, or a doctor. One thing I saw over and over again at CES was the very stiff initial interaction between Beams and attendees; stilted (but friendly) hellos and introductions. Once a conversation got going, though, it’s amazing how quickly body language and involvement changed — talking to someone piloting a Beam is genuinely like talking to that person. I saw a women pass by with a group of friends and do a double-take at one of our Beams; she then squealed in delight and actually put her hands on the Beam. A Beam Hug. Turns out, she’d gone to college with the woman piloting the Beam. It was gratifying to see how happy they both were, and how the woman’s affection for her former classmate extended to the Beam.

As more and more Beams move into workplaces, college classrooms, senior living facilities, hospitals, and homes, they will become ubiquitous. We will trust them and think of them as the people in our lives that occupy them. From a November Newsweek piece; “Economists have shown time and again that automation helps overall standards of living rise, literacy rates improve, average life span lengthen and crime rates fall.”

To all of those statistics, we can add, Beams can make you happy.