The Best Thing I Saw at CES 2015

CES: A techie’s paradise.  Where 105 inch 8K TV’s roam and security guards forbid photos of Samsung’s newest washing machine.  CES is a fascinating place, with self-driving cars and so many drones that you’d think the US Army was in attendance.  But among all the flashy technology, I was most intrigued by something a bit more simple.  For me, the best tech at CES was a robot called Beam.

As you can see from the video above, I had a great time at the Suitable Tech booth (the makers of Beam). In my four days at CES, I spent more time playing with Beam than anything else. It’s funny, because a webcam and display mounted on wheels is so simple, but in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Megabeam at CES 2015

The gigantic Megabeam at CES 2015

Talking with Beam reps, I instantly saw the value in a product like this in schools, hospitals, or retail. While funny at first, conversations over Beam are among the most natural I’ve had and effective at mimicking real life. Skype, Facetime, and Hangouts all work, but they lose the human element of face-to-face communication and are often faced with laggy video and audio. With Beam, those issues don’t exist. Even in Las Vegas where cell service was struggling, Beam managed to display beautiful, crisp video and clear audio on all their demo units.

At one point, I was actually controlling (piloting) a Beam that was in the Seattle Modern Art Museum.  There was a handler beside me (in Seattle) to make sure I didn’t bump into any exhibits, but I was free to roam.  Suddenly, as if I was an exhibit in the museum, a circle of 4-5 people approached me and started taking photos.  It was almost like they didn’t understand that I was a real person; perhaps they thought I was part of a video playing on the Beam.  I began interacting with patrons, asking them questions about the weather, the museum.  Most guests were surprised and delighted, while others were skeptical of the random man talking to them through a screen.  It was a very meta experience, with the Beam handler topping it off by taking a ‘selfie’ of me in Seattle, and emailing it to me so I could prove to friends that I took a quick detour to Seattle while I was in Las Vegas.

Now I’m not expecting anyone to go out and spend thousands of dollars on a robot anytime soon, nor do I think Beam is the future. But at CES, these robots were fun, natural, and flawless, and top my list for the best thing I saw at the show.

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