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Why mobile telepresence is here to stay

The long held dream of seeing a robot in every home may still be a ways off. But the idea of a robot in every office is becoming much more realistic. Telepresence is a form of innovation that has gained a lot of attention in recent years as means for providing exciting options for helping people become more engaged and collaborative. Thanks to the amazing confluence of SMAC technologies (Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud) over the past 5 years, the Telepresence robotics market is now at an inflection point.




For some, the word “robot” sounds too creepy and conjures up Hollywood images of alien machines taking over the world. Therefore we’ll use the term “mobile telepresence” to refer to part of a growing consumer robotics industry that is slated to become a $6.5 Billion market by 2017. Indeed, we’re seeing the prices of mobile telepresence drop significantly. Once a luxury item, now more and more options are coming online for around the $2000 mark or even lower

Remoting into work through mobile telepresence is becoming a trendy and more cost effective means to connect and do your job remotely. And because of the decrease in price points there are increasing numbers of options to a market that was previously prohibitive to the average consumer. There are a number of great mobile telepresence options out there for those that want to get onboard with this latest revolution. Let’s walk through some of the up and coming devices on the market.




Double Robotics

Double was introduced to the market in 2013 as a lower priced Telepresence option at $2500. The device is a self-balancing unit, which represents a sleek and unique design, showing the innovative use of gyroscopes and accelerometers. The design shows a growing trend among Telepresence devices of using the iPad (or other comparable tablets) as the head-mounted display. The Double represents a lower-cost option that is putting mobile telepresence in the hands of more and more businesses and individuals.





To correspond with its enterprise ready device, BeamPro, Suitable Technologies is getting ready to release a more versatile, cheaper version called the Beam+ at $1995. This will be shipping in time for the holiday 2014 shopping season. Unlike its counterpart that is more suitable for office and professional settings, Beam+ is targeted to the home environment. The main differences between the two units are that Beam+ is shorter, has a 10 inch screen, has a 2 hour battery life, runs slower and is sized more appropriately to suite a household setting. Based on the success of the BeamPro, the Beam+ is sure to be a hit and at a very competitive price.





China is getting into the Telepresence market in a big way with a sleek new Telepresence device called the PadBot. It’s not released yet but has completed a campaign on the crowdsourcing site, Indiegogo and is now getting ready for production. The design is sleek and cool and has been compared to a “white goose.” Like Double Robotics, PadBot supports an iPad for the head mount. It also offers anti-collision and anti-falling systems. The PadBot is targeted for home and office or anywhere that makes communication easier and more versatile. But here’s the real kicker: PadBot was marketed for $349 per unit! Even if it’s commercial release goes up to $500, PadBot represents a significant shift in the market towards much cheaper and more accessible Telepresence devices. If PadBot is aiming to become the iPhone of Telepresence devices then it’s off to a great start.


Fellow Robots

Fellow Robots is another up and coming player in the mobile telepresence market, focusing on the area of what they call “retail robotics.” The initiative is an offshoot of a number of technologies from Singularity University and claims to be the first company that provides service robots for retail stores. The robots are intended to provide automated assistance to customers needing shopping assistance in physical stores, whether that involves help in locating products or just monitoring customer behaviors and requests. There are not a lot of details about the production and release of this device, but a video here shows that company has received $200,000 of investment so far and is offering a price point of $1500 for each unit. While Fellow Robots is not targeted for the office, it is an exciting development nevertheless in showing how the Telepresence is rapidly seeking new use cases and markets.





One of the most popular and versatile Telepresence devices on the market is VGo. The robot started selling in 2010 and has made significant inroads into a number of industries, including medicine and education. The VGo all in one Telepresence device is 4 feet tall, offers a battery life of 6 hours between charges, and connects to the internet using WiFi or Verizon 4G LTE service. Verizon showcases VGo as a robotic Telepresence solution that provides educational solutions for children that cannot attend a traditional classroom due to illness, socio-economics, or geographical separation. VGo is a great example of a device that has gained tremendous versatility for extending Telepresence beyond the domain of the traditional office. At $5995, VGo is higher priced than some of the other solutions we’ve discussed, but the market traction it has received suggests that VGo is definitely worth the investment.


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About Jeffrey Walker

Jeff is a business development consultant who specializes in helping businesses grow through technology innovations and solutions. He holds multiple master’s degrees from institutions such as Andrews University and Columbia University, and leverages this background towards empowering people in today’s digital world. He currently works as a research specialist for a Fortune 100 firm in Boston. When not writing on the latest technology trends, Jeff runs a robotics startup called virtupresence.com, along with oversight and leadership of startuplabs.co - an emerging market assistance company that helps businesses grow through innovation.