Elizabeth Montalbano

December 19, 2014

3 Min Read
Video: First Store Staffed Entirely by Telepresence Robots Opens in California


The first store to be staffed entirely with telepresence robots has opened in Palo Alto, Calif., providing a possible glimpse into the future of retail technology.

The Beam Store from Suitable Technologies is managed by remote workers from places as diverse as New York and Sydney, Australia. Employees attend to store visitors through Beam Smart Presence Systems (SPSs) from the company. The systems combine mobility and video conferencing and allow people to communicate directly from a remote location via a screen as well as move around as if they are actually in the room.

While the purpose of the store is to be a showroom for Suitable's technology, it could also pave the way for the virtual store of the future in which in-house salespeople are replaced by remote workers through telepresence, Erin Rapacki, director of marketing for Suitable Technologies, told Design News.

"Beams can supplement store staff in any kind of retail environment," she told us. "For example, some store chains have huge influxes of customers: busy times and quiet times. Beam staff can beam into the busier stores and switch between stores as needed, these staff can also live anywhere in the world -- so finding talent is easier."

Currently, most of Suitable's customers use the Beam SPS for remote workers in an office, Rapacki said. "Most of our customers are business travels who have a BeamPro back at their headquarters and beam in while they are away on travel," she said. "Distributed teams also use BeamPro to better connect offices located in different cities."

However, by interacting with the systems in the Beam store, potential new uses open up for the systems, Rapacki said. The Beam Smart Presence System includes the BeamPro and Beam+, both of which are on display at the store so people can experience the technology firsthand.

"The most effective way to inform people about Beam is to show it in real context, have people interact with pilots on beams, and to test drive beam themselves," Rapacki said. "Its always more interesting when the people beamed in are thousands of miles away, or when a person test drives a beam located thousands of miles away, so folks can experience the low latency audio, video, and driving controls. Often, Beam needs to be experienced in order for its potential impact to be understood."

Rapacki said that some early adopters are testing out Beam to see how the telepresence systems would work in a retail environment. At the Lick technology store opening in France, BeamPro systems were used as the "first cyber coach" interacting with customers, she said, while another customer is evaluating Beam for in-store use so people who live in rural areas can browse clothing.

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About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Montalbano

Elizabeth Montalbano has been a professional journalist covering the telecommunications, technology and business sectors since 1998. Prior to her work at Design News, she has previously written news, features and opinion articles for Phone+, CRN (now ChannelWeb), the IDG News Service, Informationweek and CNNMoney, among other publications. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she also has lived and worked in Phoenix, Arizona; San Francisco and New York City. She currently resides in Lagos, Portugal. Montalbano has a bachelor's degree in English/Communications from De Sales University and a master's degree from Arizona State University in creative writing.

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