Transforming human interaction in an increasingly virtual world

The Challenge

Originally presented to Speck Design as a prototype, Suitable Technologies’ Beam concept was poised to alter the way remote employees engaged with their colleagues. This smart presence system (SPS) serves as a physical “body” for offsite employees who want face-to-face communication with onsite co-workers. Suitable asked Speck Design to help bring this idea to fruition and develop a manufacturable product.

Imagine navigating freely through a work environment, attending meetings, and participating in spontaneous interactions, all from the comfort of your home. High-speed two-way audio and video meant that natural, real-time conversations would be a snap, with the added benefit of lowering employees’ carbon footprint. It was crucial that the exterior product design be warm, approachable, elegant, and easy for users to understand. At the same time, Beam needed to be able to withstand some bumps and bruises along the way.

The Solution

Speck Design recognized the multiple advanced A/V and motorized components within Beam. This immediately meant that concealing this technology in a friendly form could pivot users away from intimidation and toward curiosity and interaction, allowing the remote user to be in “two places at one time.”

We addressed common roadblocks to success, such as encountering physical obstacles, navigating into a docking station, and maintaining optimal A/V levels. Moving well beyond the occasional bumpy floor, we designed the Beam’s base to withstand 100 head-on collisions without damage.


The Results

The balance of humanity and technology, a Speck Design hallmark, was perfectly expressed in this design effort. The soft, rounded, and unassuming robotic form avoided “uncanny valley,” encouraged collaboration and interaction, and helped remote employees feel closer to their teams. These aesthetic choices also allowed the Beam robot to fit into any office environment around the world.

A key step was designing the Beam’s front and rear bumpers for maximum absorption of impact energy and optimal isolation of shock transfer. We selected sheet metal for a flexible and integrated suspension system, allowing the Beam to glide over rough ground.

We partnered with acoustic engineers to create a microphone array mounting system and a sleek speaker box design for superior in-room sound clarity. We also designed an elegant and minimalist docking and charging station for ease in navigation and charging. The final product was elegant, user-friendly, and manufacturable.

The Beam is revolutionizing connectivity and improving corporate culture with customers including Microsoft, Mars, Splunk, Xtreme Labs, and Magic Leap. You may catch sight of it at a trade show, wedding, or even on a rerun of “The Big Bang Theory." As telepresence rockets to $13 billion in revenues by 2017, Suitable Technologies remains a frontrunner.

Capabilities involved