• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Wish you were here. Oh, wait, you are

Technology just keeps bring us cooler and cooler toys:

PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) — Engineer Dallas Goecker attends meetings, jokes with colleagues and roams the office building just like other employees at his company in Silicon Valley.

But Goecker isn't in California. He's more than 2,300 miles away, working at home in Seymour, Indiana.

It's all made possible by the Beam — a mobile video-conferencing machine that he can drive around the Palo Alto offices and workshops of Suitable Technologies. The 5-foot-tall device, topped with a large video screen, gives him a physical presence that makes him and his colleagues feel like he's actually there.

"This gives you that casual interaction that you're used to at work," Goecker said, speaking on a Beam. "I'm sitting in my desk area with everybody else. I'm part of their conversations and their socializing."

Suitable Technologies, which makes the Beam, is now one of more than a dozen companies that sell so-called telepresence robots. These remote-controlled machines are equipped with video cameras, speakers, microphones and wheels that allow users to see, hear, talk and "walk" in faraway locations.

More and more employees are working remotely, thanks to computers, smartphones, email, instant messaging and video-conferencing. But those technologies are no substitute for actually being in the office, where casual face-to-face conversations allow for easy collaboration and camaraderie.

This looks really useful. That "face-to-face camaraderie" shouldn't be dismissed lightly. My brother works remotely, and he goes into the office only occasionally for things that can't be done by computer, but I think he also finds it helpful just to actually see the people he works with. If the "telepresence robots" find only limited use, one reason might be that they seem a little goofy in a way only a nerd could love.

If you've been with this blog over the years, you might know that I consider this merely a transitional technology, however, the way pagers were a bridge between land lines and cell phones and the fax was between snail mail and email. The real game changer will be holographic technology, which will almost seem to put us in the remote location (once the prices start coming down, which they almost always do with emerging technology).