Guest Post: Propel Saves Money, Increases Collaboration with Suitable Technologies Beam+

by Miguel Tam

Propel is a software company that helps manufacturing companies collaborate with their customers, partners and employees to create innovative products.

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Open collaboration is a key component of our corporate culture. For example, our headquarters is an open work space with few walls, so our employees are very informal in how they communicate. Everyone is accustomed to simply asking a question or making a comment to the person a few desks away.

Because of the high value we place on easy and open communication, fully integrating remote employees and making them feel a part of the team has been challenging. Our remote employees used to fly in several times a month just so that they could participate in normal day-to-day activities. While it was always valuable to collaborate in person, our employees experienced travel fatigue and also felt badly about spending time away from their families. And on our end, travel expenses were significant.

Further, not all our remote team members were able to commute to the corporate office on a regular basis. For example, we have a development team in Uruguay and it didn’t make sense, financially or otherwise, to fly them in. Using social collaboration, web conferencing and emails was useful, but this also fell short in terms of fostering instant and open collaboration.

To overcome these communication challenges, Propel purchased a Beam+, which our team adopted with immediate enthusiasm. Now, remote employees can simply Beam in, drive over to a co-worker, and start a conversation. Other employees then often jump into these informal meetings, and instantly there is a much higher level of collaboration. Remote employees feel more integrated, and on-site team members find it easier and more natural to communicate with those in other places.

We don’t just use Beam+ for remote staff; when local employees are working from home, at a partner’s office, or are meeting with a customer off-site, they can also collaborate easily with the team back at Propel’s corporate office.

The ROI for the Beam+ was rapid and obvious. We have completely discontinued trips to our headquarters solely for the purpose of collaboration, which has significantly reduced travel expenses. The elimination of just one weeklong trip by a remote employee has easily paid for the purchase of a Beam+. Remote employees are now able to use the Beam+ to meaningfully participate in day-to-day activities and decisions.

An unexpected, positive side effect of purchasing the Beam+ was that account executives and other staff that visit customers have a means of informally showing off the office and our employees. For example, when a sales rep or implementation specialist is at a customer or prospect site, it’s easy to Beam in, with customers watching, and casually meet members of the tech support staff or development team. The Beam+ has helped Propel demonstrate a certain “cool factor” to customers and prospects – without us having to say a word, it communicates that our company is a modern, creative, enthusiastic adopter of technology.

To say that a robot has opened up greater avenues of interpersonal communication and collaboration may sound paradoxical, but it has done just that. Every company that has remote employees, or employees that sometimes work from home, should have at least one Beam. The benefits are truly tremendous.

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ABC7’s Larry Beil Uses Beam to Experience the Future of Armchair Quarterbacking

Beam makes it possible for people to be where they want and need to be – from business travelers to remote employees, distance learners, health professionals, overseas manufacturers and more – without leaving their office or home.

And now, thanks to Larry Beil, co-host of ABC7’s post-game show, “After the Game,” we can add “Super Fan” to the list of users for Beam.

Beil jumped into the fray at Stanford University’s Football Fan Fest during the Stanford/Oregon State game on November 5th as “Larrybot” using Beam, and was met with laughter, delight… and even a jesting accusation of being a “rude robot” for some playful interactions with Stanford fans.

While Beil’s experience made for a light sports news piece, the reality is that Beam makes it possible for sports fans who can’t get to a stadium to experience game day as a telepresence, including pre-game festivities and interacting with other fans.

Beil’s parting dream for “Larrybot” would be the ability to take Beam onto the field during a game to share some of his recommendations with Stanford Cardinals’ coach, David Shaw. With Stanford’s annual “Big Game” against the California Golden Bears in Berkeley, CA this coming weekend, the potential for the future of armchair quarterbacking may well be Beamed upon us.

 

The Art of Polite Presence: Office Etiquette for Beam Users

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The Institute for the Future (IFTF), an independent, 50-person non-profit research group dedicated to helping all types of organizations “make the futures they want” has been using Beam (Plus and Pro models) now for a little over a year. Beam allows remote staff, affiliates, clients and others to meet in person — and is a very real expression of how the futurist think tank practices what it researches and teaches.

One of the biggest questions when using Beam, according to cultural anthropologist Lyn Jeffery, Research Director in the Ten-Year Forecast Program, was, “How can I instantiate myself in order to have the desired effect for optimal collaboration, productivity, etc.?”

As it is with human beings, the answer had a lot to do with interpersonal interactions, particularly how to reinterpret manners and social mores for Smart Presence. IFTF staff, including Jeffery and her associate, researcher Rachel Hatch, among others, enjoyed getting creative with workarounds and solutions to ensure a thoughtful telepresence.

HOW TO BE THE ROBOT HOST(ESS) WITH THE MOST(ESS)

While it’s easy to roll over to greet guests, show them around the office or escort them to the bathroom when you’re using a Beam, actual hospitality is much trickier. For example, you can’t hand them a parking pass or set out coffee and snacks for them. IFTF researcher Rachel Hatch’s solution? She experimented with Instacart delivery and other services that can be ordered online or over the phone and delivered right to meetings.

FIND A BUDDY, BUT BE CLEAR: S/HE’S NOT A BABYSITTER OR BUTLER

In the hospitality example above, another solution would of course to have a human counterpart help out with greeting guests and making them comfortable. This, according to Hatch, can create an opportunities for “new kinds of partnerships,” where the buddy acts as hands for the Beam user. It has a big caveat, however – you don’t want to create for your buddy too much “office housework,” which is the thankless but necessary tasks required to keep things organized and running smoothly at work. This includes things like opening doors or moving heavy obstacles that Beam can’t itself move out of the way or maneuver around. Some help is fine, but be thoughtful and streamline when and where you can.

USE YOUR INSIDE VOICE

While remote users can easily control the volume on their computers when using the Beam, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s at a level that works well for those on the receiving end. For example, Jeffery found that when she tried to speak to a co-worker in a room near a loud air conditioning unit, her voice was too soft so she had to raise the volume. Later, when she rolled to another part of the office, she was then too loud. Back to the buddy system: it’s helpful to have someone let you know when you need to regulate your volume. Or at the very least, remember to ask the people you’re addressing when you enter a new room if you sound okay or if you need to make adjustments.

DON’T BE A NOSY NEIGHBOR

When you Beam, you’re generally pretty much silent, so always remember to say “hi” when you roll up to a co-worker. But that’s just the starting place – Hatch had a situation where she Beamed into a room where someone had left the apparatus (vs. bringing it to its base station) and she ended up “blinking to life” in the middle of a meeting between two colleagues — who may not have appreciated her unexpected pop in. It’s important to keep in mind that turning off the telepresence isn’t the same as leaving the space.

These examples are all great reminders, thanks to IFTF, that nobody likes a rude robot. Always remember your social graces are an important part having not just a smart, but also a sensitive presence.

How Michigan State University is Leading the Charge for Better Distance Education

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Demand for distance learning, or distance education, where students take online courses or even attend classes virtually, continues to increase. More than one in four students (28%) now take at least one distance education course, according to a recent study conducted by Babson Survey Research Group and co-sponsored by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC).

In response, more and more universities are opening their programs to students via the internet. The problem is, it often comes at the expense of the personal connection and enhanced learning that naturally happens when students sit in a room together, sharing experiences.

John Bell is the head of Michigan State University’s Design Studio and a professor in their doctoral program for educational psychology and educational technology students. As one of the key personnel in driving the department’s shift from an onsite-only program to a hybrid program – where students could attend classes both in-person and remotely – it was important to Bell to find a way to maintain that human connection.

And so began MSU’s foray into remote telepresence exploration. During the next two years, Bell, his students, and the MSU faculty experimented with various types of remote telepresence technology in the classroom. Their findings were fascinating.

“Social presence is what’s so often missing when people attend a class from afar,” says Bell. “With traditional videoconferencing, the remote student has to rely on others to move a laptop or rotate a screen so they can see and hear, and be seen and be heard. It’s inefficient and awkward for the remote student as well as those in the classroom – it’s quite disruptive, actually.”

Bell found that the Beam removed much of this awkwardness, allowing remote students to control when and where they moved and looked in the room, giving them a much more natural and meaningful presence.

Another of MSU’s Professors (who recently moved to be an Associate Dean in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University), Punya Mishra, notes that using robotic telepresence to literally bring all of his research students around the table completely shifts the dynamic. It’s a less formal setting that allows for more personal interactions.

Chris Fahnoe, an Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET) student from Illinois, agrees.

“Early on there was a very large emphasis in the program to make sure that as hybrid students, we were connected in different ways,” Fahnoe says. “This model [Beam] – even in the short time that I’ve had a chance to use it – lends a lot more authenticity. It makes me feel more connected in terms of participation, conversation, and having more control over movement and space.”

While faculty and students alike acknowledge the “coolness factor” that comes with any new technology, and that real adaptation and integration takes time, MSU’s hybrid PhD students are enthusiastic about Beam’s potential.

“If you’re feeling connected and engaged — and it’s natural — then you can do things like professional learning from afar,” adds Fahnoe. “It’s as authentic as if you just met someone you didn’t know, and you’re just talking about what you’re working on.”

Bell believes that robotic telepresence in educational settings is an innovative approach to student participation outside of the classroom, and his students and faculty will continue to explore the technology and its potential.

We applaud MSU’s commitment to improving educational opportunities for students via remote telepresence, and wish them the best in their efforts.

For more on MSU’s cutting-edge pursuit of better distance education, check out this video.

We’re Ready for Our Close-Up: Beam Hits the Big Screen in Oliver Stone’s SNOWDEN

Oliver Stone’s eagerly anticipated film, Snowden, opens in the U.S. on September 16, and BeamPro® is thrilled to make its box office debut in the movie.

Critics are already hailing the film from the legendary director as one of the year’s best… and perhaps one of Stone’s most prominent works:

Snowden” isn’t just the director’s most exciting work since Nixon (1995) — it’s the most important and galvanizing political drama by an American filmmaker in years.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“As a movie, Snowden computes. It’s sexy, controversial, visually interesting. It’s Oliver Stone’s best film since JFK.” – Allen Salkin, NY Daily News 

“… Possibly the most important film you will see this year. It should certainly be compulsory viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in the basic norms of human rights, freedom of speech and civil liberties.” – Chris Newbould, The National

THE HUMAN TOUCH
While it’s difficult to bring a film that’s essentially about data and technology to life in a compelling, thrilling way, it’s the nuances of the human condition that Stone masterfully illuminates in all of his films – and Snowden in particular – that makes the stories he tells universally relatable:

Snowden is also a remarkably optimistic movie, another characteristic of Oliver Stone at his very best. A bleaker beat might have made the picture more artistically interesting, but Snowden’s biography is ultimately a story about hope and change, and Snowden generously embraces that narrative theme.” – Jared Petty, IGN 

THE BEAM CONNECTION
Prominent personalities from Edward Snowden to Kanye West and President Obama use Beam to connect, communicate and be present in important situations and conversations, all around the world. While video conferencing is part of our daily experience, Beam allows you to hear and see everyone and everything in the room… and for others to interact with you just as if you were physically standing right next to them.

We are honored to be in the room when it comes to helping thought leaders, artists and everyday people show up in ways never before possible.

NO SPOILERS BUT….
While we won’t give you any specifics about Beam’s appearance in Snowden (you’ll have to go see for yourself!), here’s a little hint from Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood.

“Snowden is participating not only in its publicity with interviews from Moscow, but he’s in the film as well in a nifty little cameo at the end.”

We’ll take that as a glowing review!

For more about Beam and to see it in action, check out Snowden’s 2014 TED Talk and New York Magazine’s recent piece, “I, Snowbot.”

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Suitable Technologies, the Leader in Robotic Telepresence, Announces Exclusive Fireside Chat with Edward Snowden and Peter Diamandis

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 6, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Suitable Technologies (http://www.suitabletech.com), a developer of robotic telepresence devices for remote collaboration today announced an exclusive, interactive  fireside chat with Edward Snowden that will take place at the company’s booth at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), #35829 South Hall LVCC Floor 2 on Thursday, January 7 at11 a.m. PST.  The conversation will be moderated by Dr. Peter H. Diamandis using the Suitable Technologies’ BeamPro™. Diamandis is Founder and Executive Chairman of XPRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions.

Snowden will also be taking questions from the audience via Twitter. Simply tweet a question and tag both @SuitableTech and @PeterDiamandis before Midnight PST on January 6, 2016 for your question to be considered.

A limited number of BeamPros will be available to press for remote attendance. For more information, contact comm@suitabletech.com. For anyone who wishes to watch the interview, but is not at CES, a live Periscope feed will also be available from Suitable Technologies’ @SuitableTech Twitter account.

Beam is the next generation in mobile, personal communications. Suitable Technologies recently launched apps for iOS or Android devices that allow users to connect to and drive a Beam in another location – whether across town or across the globe.

In addition to Thursday’s event, Suitable Technologies will be demonstrating its latest products and services both at their booth (#35829 South Hall, Level 2) as well as the ShowStoppers media event, taking place from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. PST on January 6th at the The Wynn.

About Suitable Technologies™
Suitable Technologies grants shared experiences between friends, students, teams and guests by transporting a person’s presence to any place of interest. The Beam™ SPS (Smart Presence System), which includes products BeamPro and Beam+, is a telepresence solution that combines mobility and video conferencing for an immersive communication experience anywhere conversations take place. Beam enables people to be there, and to interact naturally by seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard, and the freedom to move about, from anywhere in the world. Founded in 2011 by serial entrepreneur, Scott Hassan, Suitable Technologies products are designed and manufactured at its headquarters in Palo Alto, CA. Follow @suitabletech on Twitter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and elevate your communication at https://www.suitabletech.com.

Beam+ Takes You There

Beam+ Takes You There

On a typical weekday morning, Victor Cho can turn on his Beam+ and experience breakfast time with his children while he’s hundreds of miles away.

Cho, the CEO of Evite, uses the controls on his computer at his Los Angeles office to move the Beam+ around his family’s kitchen in Northern California. He enjoys casual conversations with his two daughters, aged 8 and 6. He can drive the Beam+ using computer keyboard controls and dual cameras for front and floor views that provide peripheral vision to make him feel he’s in the room. He can look at what the children are doing and they can see his face on the screen. “It’s being there at the same time, paying attention to that person, and looking at that person,” he says.

Robot-3The girls have made it a natural part of their morning interaction with him. “I will walk them out the door and say bye to them, wishing them a good day at school,” Cho says, laughing. After school, or at evening play time, he can be doing work nearby while the kids play with Lego blocks.

For Cho, the Beam+ has made a significant, positive difference in his quality of life since he installed it this past summer. But that is just one way Cho benefits. Like many business people working in a global economy, his life happens in multiple places. With the Beam+, he also makes his presence felt among colleagues at Evite’s satellite offices in Chicago and New York. Employees of the growing online invitation and social planning company have also improved the quality of their remote interactions. While they once felt distant and removed, they now feel like they’re practically in the same space.

What’s clear is that once Cho starting using the Beam+, he started to see more ways to take advantage of what it offers. It’s the same kind of experience for other Beam+ owners, like Steve Simons and John O’Mullane. Even though all three executives are leaders in very different organizations, they each find a growing number of reasons to power up their Beam+ and BeamPro devices.

A Close-Up View for Product Demos

At his workshop in Mountain View, Calif., Steve Simons has developed a product that automates the work of precision milling machines that make metal parts. Instead of having a person manually feeding and cleaning materials, Simons Design Innovation has launched the Smart Valet, a material loading platform that is “like a bar feeder for your mill.” The goal: keep more machine shop jobs in the U.S. by making American plants more cost effective.

For prospective customers, it is important to see the Smart Valet in action. A YouTube video is fine to entice more interest. A trade show display is good, but often rushed, Simons says. What really works is inviting customers to drive a Beam+ around the workshop area where a Smart Valet is operating. That way, Simons says, the customer can see what he wants, when he wants, and can ask questions about what is in view.

“Typically we can send them a video. But we can develop a lot more interest if they can see the device run in person and see all the features and ask questions,” Simons says. “Once they start looking and asking questions, we have a pretty good conversation with them over using the Beam.”

This interaction saves both Simons’ company and the prospective customer from traveling during preliminary conversations and has shortened the sales process in some cases. “It has made the difference in at least the timing of the sale. We got the customer’s attention and we were able to explain why this is going to help them make money. I don’t think we would have been able to do it without the use of the Beam,” Simons says.
The video and sound quality (the Beam+ uses a microphone array that cancels out the ambient noise in the machine shop) makes it easy to see the action and hear people talking in the workshop.

The company also uses its Beam+ to monitor product tests during off hours. Simons or one of his colleagues can check the status of a Smart Valet test run. In one instance, Simons noticed that someone had not flipped a switch required for the machine to do a proper test. Simons drove back to the workshop to fix the problem.

When one of Simons’ business partners saw the Beam+ at the workshop, he brought it back with him to Taiwan (which meant Simons acquired another Beam+ for the Mountain View workshop). Now, Simons says, he can attend meetings and check in with colleagues at Intersource Partners in Taichung, Taiwan, a supply chain management company that performs quality control inspections on final products before they ship.

And just like the Smart Valet product demos, Intersource Partners can invite customers to use the Beam+ in Taichung to tour the office, attend product quality inspections and watch the results and ask questions. “I will go to a customer site, jump on the Beam in Taiwan and run it through the facility and show him what we are doing there and what the plant looks like. And along the way, have meetings with different officers in the company,” Simons says.

He can also guide the Beam+ from his office in Mountain View, with a customer along for the ride. “To me, the groundbreaking aspect of having the Beam in Taiwan is the mobility,” Simons says. “It allows something like a water cooler conversation to happen. Being able to run it around, and interact with anybody on-site is something I didn’t expect in terms of the results,” he adds.

At Bayer, a Chance to Be Present and Counted

John O’Mullane serves as head of innovation, research and development at Bayer Consumer Health, a Division of Bayer, the global life sciences company. From his office in Basel, Switzerland, he communicates with a diverse array of colleagues – from research scientists to customer experience designers – all over the world. As he began this summer to use BeamPro to visit with working groups in Memphis, Tennessee, he says he quickly saw its potential to bring people closer together even when they were separated by oceans or continents.

O’Mullane has a BeamPro at his company and a Beam+ at home. He says the difference between the Beam telepresence devices and other communications media is the difference between a passive bystander and an active participant. With the Beam, a user can feel more present by controlling his frame of attention. He can turn to react or see something that interests him. He can focus on what he thinks is important, rather than relying on a static camera or a conversation partner’s video camera position.

“Even in a video teleconference, you are kind of stuck in a room,” O’Mullane says. “If you were using your iPad and FaceTime, it’s not the same experience. You are kind of being led, and being taken someplace else. With the Beam, there is a kind of presence to it. We prefer to use it rather than any other way of communicating because it is so dynamic,” he adds.

So far, Bayer has just begun to use its BeamPro in meetings in Memphis. It is doing pilot tests with colleagues at a facility in China. But O’Mullane sees more possibilities than meetings and drive-by interactions. For example, he imagines attending brainstorming sessions at a consumer engagement center in Memphis, a facility with lots of open spaces and clusters of people working in small groups. There, a user could participate in a group discussion via the BeamPro and move from group to group through the facility.

Factory and lab tours are another potential application. O’Mullane foresees testing a BeamPro in a clean environment where people have to wear gowns and glasses. Bayer could also use the device to accompany a laboratory site auditor, or to visit with researchers to learn more about their latest work. Or to consult with colleagues in China or other locations that can benefit from expertise from headquarters or another site; to share knowledge via BeamPro rather than traveling would save both time and expense.

Shortly after Bayer gained experience with the BeamPro in its offices, O’Mullane bought a Beam+ for his home in New Jersey, where his wife spends time in addition to being in Basel. The experience of spending time together with her via the Beam+ has made a difference.

“You want that time together and on the telephone is tough. You miss all the body language,” he says. The great thing about the Beam+, he says, is “I can walk around the kitchen as my wife prepares dinner. And she can carry on preparing dinner. And when she is answering a letter, or opening the mail, or doing the dishwasher, I am wandering around the kitchen as well,” he says. “She can do her stuff, just as you would if you were there. Very rarely in today’s busy world, can you just have time to sit down, and have that time together and to have it be productive, for both. It is something that is rare.”

At Evite, a Welcome from the CEO

Evite CEO Victor Cho wants to create a vibrant culture that engages employees, whether they are in the Los Angeles, Chicago or New York office. Cho says the Beam+ helps him achieve that by allowing him to spend time with groups in each location, where he can have informal conversations. “If I have a chunk of downtime, one of the first things I will roll through my head is if there is someone or something interesting I can see. Usually there’s a task I can do, or I can just roam the hall and say hi to people,” he says. “I feel more connected to the offices.”

For example, he has driven the Beam+ in the New York office to say hello to a new employee and has dropped in on a Thanksgiving potluck lunch at headquarters when he was working from home one day.

And he has encouraged his colleagues to use the Beam+ to connect with each other, especially for one-on-one or small group conversations. “It’s a great employee motivator. People think it’s cool,” Cho says. “And it puts us at the progressive edge of how we think about employee interaction and the use of technology,” he adds.

Cho says his company has video conferencing capability, but he prefers to use the Beam+ when he can. “The amazing thing is that it’s just like I’m there in person. It’s more personal. The conversation is more natural. I can pop in and we can brainstorm. It lends itself to a more casual discussion,” he says.
He figures the Beam+ paid for itself when it saved him one cross-country trip to visit a remote office. And then there’s the Beam+ he has at home.

“When it came in the first week, I had two or three nights with my family. Those hours are priceless,” Cho says. “As long as I am doing any business travel, I will be getting the next version. It is that transformative.”