Best Telepresence Robots for 2018: Don’t Buy One of the Duds!

Telepresence robots are a cool thing to own. But are they really “worth it”? If so, what are the best telepresence robots worth buying?

These wheeled devices are controlled remotely and can connect to the Internet wirelessly.  They also have video and audio capabilities, usually when adding a smartphone or tablet.  Others have built-in cameras, speakers and microphones.

Telepresence robots are more commonly used in an industrial setting, including acting as security guards or watchmen, healthcare consultants, and factory inspectors, among other functions.

With telecommuting now a part of more and more people’s work lives, telepresence robots provide employees who are working outside the office a way to interact with their colleagues just as if they are there in the office.

Now, which telepresence systems should you be looking at?

#1 Suitable Tech Beam Enhanced

Suitable Tech Beam gives you a 17-inch 1080-pixel display and allows you to talk to people at the office even when you are not physically there.  It also allows you to tour the facility and see how things are from afar.

  • Stronger Battery Life: Beam features a long-lasting battery that can last for two hours, a 10-inch high-resolution LCD display, one speaker and four microphones for better two-way communication, and two cameras with enhanced definition and wide viewing angle.  It can also run as fast as 1 mile per hour and has a very low center of gravity.
  • Four Wheeled Stability: The Suitable Tech Beam robot has four wheels, making it very stable.
  • Better Onboard Cameras: Meanwhile, navigation cameras face both forward and downward, helping you get a better sense of your surroundings as well as making it easy to maneuver the robot.
  • Durable Construction: The Beam robot is made of very strong materials, such as reinforced polymer, making it very durable.  It is also very lightweight and, therefore, portable.
  • Pricing: For a price of $1,995 as of this writing (check here for latest), you can easily get remote management capability for every Suitable Technologies Beam robot in your company.

Alternatively, you can opt for the Enhanced version, which costs $3,995 plus the annual subscription plan.  The Enhanced version extends the battery’s life to around eight hours and has two Wi-Fi radios.  It also increases the maximum speed to two miles per hour.  Meanwhile, the upgraded plan gives you scheduling features and better access control.

The Beam robot stands 52.9 inches tall and has a width of 12.3 inches and a depth of 16.4 inches.  It weighs 39 pounds.  Meanwhile, the included dock is 6.5 inches tall, 18.2 inches wide and 17.9 inches deep, while weighing only 5.6 pounds.

#2 Double Robotics Double 2

The Double Robotics telepresence robot allows you to be there even when you are miles away.  It has a 720-pixel camera on top so that you could see everything that is happening.  Meanwhile, you can mount an iPad Air or iPad Pro to allow others to see your face.

Double Robotics also comes with an audio kit and a battery that can run anywhere from six to eight hours.  It comes with an always-on charging dock that will recharge depleted batteries in just three hours.

  • Adjustable Height: The robot has two heights.  You can remotely set it to standing height at 60 inches, or sitting height at 47 inches.
  • Stability Control: The Double Robotics telepresence robot uses lateral stability control and is self-balancing, thus lessening the chances of the robot toppling over bumps, wires and other small obstacles on the floor.  When not in use, the double kickstands make sure that the robot is stable and that it can be parked just about anywhere.
  • Power Drive: It also features a Power Drive option that enables the robot to run 80% faster than its usual driving speed, topping 1.6 miles per hour.  This is especially helpful if you are in a hurry to a meeting or if you have to go somewhere far.
  • Security: Double Robotics makes use of WebRTC standards to securely transmit audio and video.  This means that you have 128-bit AES encryption as well as HMAC-SHA1 to ensure data integrity.
  • Camera Kit: The camera kit has a resolution of 5 megapixels with a 150-degree wide-angle lens.  That means you can get crisp and clear photos without sacrificing the details.  The kit also has the floor view camera that is always on.  This will help you move the robot around.
  • Driver Apps: The Double Robotics telepresence robot comes with its own driver app that you can access via web browser and iOS/Android mobile devices.
  • Pricing: The Double Robotics telepresence robot costs about $3,000, but you can find it considerably less here.

#3 iRobot Ava 500

Not content with dominating the robot vacuum market for homes, iRobot has come up with other robot products geared toward businesses.  One of these is the iRobot Ava 500.

Familiar Interface: The iRobot Ava 500 is controlled using an interface similar to the one you see on iPhones and iPads.  Scheduling a meeting or controlling the robot is done via mobile app.  The iRobot Ava 500 works on its own.

Smart Mapping: When you get the robot, it will map out your office by going into all the rooms so that it would know where to go when you have a meeting or when you need to check a specific department. That is right, all you have to do is to schedule a meeting or conference even when you’re far away and the iRobot Ava 500 will find its way to the right conference room and take its position.  You do not have to control it!

Smart Navigation: It will also avoid any obstacle while en route to the designated room.  If it runs low on battery, the Ava 500 will find its way back to the charging station, a feature that is highly reminiscent of the Roomba’s auto dock.

This means that you can spend less time controlling the robot when you need to attend a meeting or waste precious time guiding it back to its charging dock when its battery runs low because it will do so by itself.

The Ava 500 uses Cisco’s Telepresence EX60, which gives you 1080 pixels of resolution, along with crisp video and audio quality.

Adjustable Height: Furthermore, you can adjust the Ava 500’s height to make sure that you can interact with both seated and standing colleagues in a more natural way.  And with the Ava 500’s 21.5-inch high-definition display, your colleagues would not mind looking at you when you speak.

State of the Art Tech: The Ava 500 brings all the top technologies that iRobot has used for its home electronics products as well as for its RP Vita health care robot, along with Cisco’s technologies.  That said, it is a guarantee that you would have one of the best telepresence robots out there, one that does not take too much time to maneuver.

Premium Price Point: However, all of these awesome features do come with a heftier price tag: $69,500.

Yes, you should set aside $70,000 if you want to purchase the Ava 500.  The good news is that you can lease these robots for a much manageable sum of $2,500 per month.

#4 Kubi Classic

There are times when companies do not really need a robot running up and down its hallway, but still want their employees to be able to attend important meetings without physically being there.  For these situations, they can rely on Kubi Classic.

  • Table Mounted: You can mount a tablet on the Kubi and the servos allow you to pan and tilt the tablet remotely via the companion app or through your browser.  You can customize the controls to help you move the Kubi Classic easily and precisely.
  • Multiple Control Mechanisms: Additionally, you can tap anywhere on your screen to automatically center the video feed and take screenshots.  You can use your keyboard to control the robot if you are using a PC.
  • Display Options: The Kubi Classic can pan at angles of up to 300 degrees and can tilt up and down for 45 degrees.  The base is also removable.  It has an RGB power button with a very visible status indicator.
  • Key Specs: The Kubi Classic measures 2.25 inches wide, 2.25 inches long, and 11.75 inches high without the base.  It weighs only 0.75 pounds without the base and double that weight with the base.
  • Can Use Different Off the Shelf Tablets: You can use a wide of variety of tablets measuring anywhere from 7 inches to 10.5 inches.  That means that you can use it with iPad 3, Air, 4, and iPad Minis.  You can also use Android tablets that run on at least JellyBean 4.3 and that have Bluetooth Smart connectivity.
  • Pricing Options: The Kubi Classic sells for $699 (as of this writing), but you can check here for the latest pricing.
  • Save Presets and Customize: You will love the Kubi Classic’s ability to save the camera positions you like, its customized controls, and its ability to look at whoever is speaking or addressing questions and at different people in the room while the screen is facing them.  It may not have its own screen and will not be able to travel from one room to another, but the Kubi Classic gives you a way to participate in meetings even when you are at home or on a business trip miles away.

Criteria for Evaluating a “Good” Robot?

With so many new telerobots hitting the market, I thought it would be helpful to create some high level criteria to make better decisions:

  • How Much Does it Cost? This might seem relatively straightforward, but these are pricey tools with a wide range. The list price is certainly an important factor, but what about servicing? If the robot breaks, who fixes it? Making sure that the brand has a good service plan / warranty in place is critical at this price point.
  • Video Quality: Most robots have a pretty robust navigation system. As such, the quality of video becomes key to ensuring the operator has enough visibility to drive! Ideally, the field of view is greater than 90 degrees to achieve this.
  • Good Screen Resolution: The whole point is to essentially “replace” the human face. Studies suggest that a resolution of at least 720p is best.
  • Network Connections: Dual-band WiFi support seems critical, whether for 2.4 GHz or 5GHz. There is nothing worse that a poor connection, especially with a pricey tool like this.
  • Speed Options: The operating speed should roughly resemble human-like “office” speeds, but accounting for errors. Assume a 1 or 2 MPH speed limit.
  • Integrations: Put simply, how does the robot “play” with other office utilities and systems? Is it a relatively closed system or can you integrate with various data plans and providers? Ideally, it would be great to get to the point where these devices can also speak to the broader smart home (or “office”) in a “Works with Alexa” type of way. At a more basic level, what types of ports / physical connections does the robot have?
  • Ease of Use: My sense is that the closer these devices resemble “iPads” the easier it will be for users to adapt.

Final Look at Telepresence Robots

If you are a business owner who frequently goes on conferences or business trips abroad, if you have employees who work at home, or if you are a telecommuting employee, telepresence robots are a great way to ensure that everyone who’s critical to a particular project is present during meetings and brainstorming sessions even without being there physically.

It ensures that you all go about your work in the office without literally being in the office.  Bosses can check in on their employees and compliment them for a job well done even while being halfway across the country.  With telepresence robots, meetings are more engaged and everybody can be on the same page.

There are several types of telepresence robots that would not let you down, if you have some patience.

Most have HD cameras, high-resolution displays, and outstanding video and audio capabilities.  But if you need to move around the office, check out Double Robotics or Suitable Tech’s Beam telepresence robots.  For both, you can get eight hours of work done for about $3,000 to $4,000.  Beam also has a cheaper version at $2,000 but it only runs for two hours without recharging.

If you are the type who does not enjoy fiddling with the controls, you might want to get the Ava 500 robot, which autonomously maps out your office so that you could just tell it to go to a particular room or let it find its way to the next meeting and then back to its charging station without doing anything.  This convenience, however, comes at a steep price.

Bottom Line?

For Budget Buyers: If budget is tight, you can still enjoy the convenience of having telepresence robots at meetings (ideal for video conferencing) with the Kubi.  For around $700 (check here for the latest price), out-of-office employees can still join meetings and make everyone feel like he or she is really there.

For the Best Available Today: If you just want a quality investment, I really don’t think you can go wrong with the Suitable Tech Beam available here. It’s both the most market ready and the best functionality for most office settings.