There’s nothing like being with family in person. But maybe there’s something that’s better than a phone call, if you’re willing to spend a thousand or two dollars and suspend disbelief for a little while.

The new Beam+ from Suitable Technologies looks a bit like an iPad with a nice camera and speakers mounted on a Segway. If people call in remotely, their faces are displayed on the screen, and they can motor themselves around the room via a bit of software and a mouse on their own computer.

It’s not actually a robot, because the Beam+ is entirely controlled by a human, but it feels different from talking to someone on a stationary screen.

The idea is that a “visit” is better than a phone call or a normal video call, according to Scott Hassan, founder and CEO of Suitable Technologies, who previously founded the personal robotics company Willow Garage as well as the Yahoo Groups predecessor eGroups.

“Your brain thinks it’s a person because it moves and acts and looks like a person,” Hassan said. “Taking up space is important.”

Suitable has built a similar product called the Beam for the enterprise that sells for $16,000. The Beam has a longer battery life and a smaller screen.

Starting today, the first thousand of the $1995 Beam+ will sell for $995, for shipment in the summer of 2014.

The idea is to keep one at home — Hassan actually keeps two, because his house is two stories and the Beam+ doesn’t climb stairs — so a traveling parent or grandparent can beam themselves in and actually participate in the family by sitting at the dinner table, playing games or hanging out.

“Good parenting doesn’t need physicality. You use your voice,” Hassan noted.




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