For those of you who are old enough to have watched the television series Star Trek and you were a "Trekkie," you know the meaning of this phrase. These words became ingrained in the popular culture and stemmed from the command Captain Kirk gave to his chief engineer when he needed to be transported back to the Starship Enterprise. The idea was very cool, the notion that you could be transported instantly to any place that caught your imagination. The series was fraught with danger and the possibility that the energy pattern representing Captain Kirk could be lost during the transporting process forever leaving Kirk in bits of scattered matter across the universe.
No one thought this technology would ever be feasible, and nearly 50 years later it still isn't. Another type of Beam technology however is feasible today, and it allows anyone, and I mean anyone, the ability to be instantly transported anywhere in the world at anytime. That's ridiculous, you say. What if you are unable to walk, unable to talk or unable to use your hands? Well, that's the whole point of Beam Technology. Now everyone, even the severely disabled, will be able to visit an art museum in Paris, stand on the bank of the Thames or see a ballgame in Wrigley Field.
A company by the name of Suitable Technologies from Palo Alto, California has developed the Beam Smart Presence system that lets you travel instantly and have face-to-face interaction with anyone around the world. Born out of frustrations trying to interact with remote work teams, the technology has quickly been hijacked as a way to give the disabled a golden ticket to see the world. Beam is actually a robot you link to via Wi-Fi Internet and control with your keyboard – and eventually, voice-activated technology. (i.e. Dragon Naturally Speaking) Two cameras on the Beam computer allow you to see the world in your remote location, and help you to navigate in that world, while a camera on your computer allows people a world away to see and talk with you.
The first use of this technology for the disabled was at the de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, where the waiting line for taking a Beam tour ranges from 2-3 months. Meanwhile, other museums such as the Seattle Art Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, the San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego Museum of Man, Computer History Museum, and the University of South Dakota's Natural History Museum are all developing their own Beam tours.
When you think about the eventual consequences of such technology, it is staggering. Imagine a world where you don't have to get on an airplane to attend an important conference. Perhaps that will cause airlines to become consumer friendly once again! Virtual tourism could someday impact everything from cruise lines to soft drink vendors near these tourist destinations, although there never will be a substitute for visiting the real thing in person.
Beam will someday help level the playing field of education by bringing first-rate instruction directly to everywhere on earth with just a Wi-Fi connection and a computer. Beam will also help integrate the diversity of life into mainstream culture, allowing people with disabilities to become an essential part of the community at large. Beam is one of those technologies that will help shrink the world to the next level – without the worry of getting lost in space!
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