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Editor's Notebook
August 3, 2020

3/18/2013 2:00:00 PM
'Beam' me up, Mr. Goecker
Mobile video conferencing machine is hit in NV and on TV sitcom
Marsha and Don Goecker talk with their son, Dallas, via the Beam Remote Presence System. At the time, Dallas, who helped create the device, was in Seymour, while his parents  were in North Vernon at their store, Goecker Building Supplies.
+ click to enlarge
Marsha and Don Goecker talk with their son, Dallas, via the Beam Remote Presence System. At the time, Dallas, who helped create the device, was in Seymour, while his parents were in North Vernon at their store, Goecker Building Supplies.

How can you be in two places at the same time? Dallas Goecker does that, in a way, every work day.
I went to meet Dallas at his parent's store, Goecker Building Supplies, in North Vernon the other day. We talked face to face and eye to eye, joked with his mother and father, Don and Marsha and walked around the store together. I also took a few photographs of Dallas with his parents.
Funny thing, though, Dallas wasn't really in North Vernon. He was 15 miles away in Seymour.
Through an ultramodern marvel that Goecker helped create, a Beam Remote Presence System, he was in essence in two places at once.
"Wow, that is amazing," said one customer at the northside store who saw the robotic-like device while I was there. Other customers were also doing double and triple takes.
"The people coming in this morning seem to like it," chuckled Don Goecker, a justifiably proud papa.
The Beam Remote Presence System - or simply just "the Beam" as Dallas and others call it - is a sleek five-foot-tall device with wheels at the bottom and a large video screen at top. The video showed a large view of Dallas' face as he talked, smiled and laughed while interacting with me. It truly was as if he was there.
Then, when Dallas - err, the Beam - walked down a store aisle with me as we talked, I was even more impressed.
Robot? Not exactly but sort of. The mobile video conferencing machine is kind of like a robot, but it is not autonomous. It is remotely operated.
The operator, Dallas, saw me and I saw him. Equipped with video cameras, including one showing the floor in front of the Beam so the operator doesn't run into something, speakers, microphones and wheels, the user can see, hear, talk and "walk" in places far away - much farther away than North Vernon.
There are limits, obviously. The Beam needs an Internet or 4G wifi connection. And at $16,000, it is not exactly cheap.
Suitable Technologies of Palo Alto, Calif., the high-tech company for which Goecker works, put the Beam on the market last September. It says it was designed with features that make "pilots" and "locals" feel the remote worker is physically in the room: powerful speakers, highly sensitive microphones and robust wireless connectivity.
Goecker and many of the other Suitable Tech­nologies employees use the Beam as a workplace tool themselves. Goecker still maintains his residence in Seymour, "beaming" to Silicon Valley every workday, using the Beam to sit next to his flesh-and-blood co-employees and work on projects.
It is quite common these days for employees to work remotely via computers, smartphones, email, instant messaging and video-conferencing. Those technologies, however, are no substitute for actually being in the office or workplace. The Beam gives remote workers a real physical presence.
It sure seemed like Dallas was in Goecker Building Supplies with me that day.
Don Goecker took Dallas, via the Beam, to a North Vernon Kiwanis Club meeting earlier that morning where he wowed the crowd. Then Don brought the Beam to his store to show it off for a while to the customers there.
"Ever since Dallas was a kid, he tinkered with stuff like this," said Marsha Goecker. "It started years ago at home. He'd have wires, switches and all kinds of electronic stuff in the workshop putting together his inventions."
As an adult, Dallas later went to work as an engineer for Willow Garage, a robotics company in Menlo Park, Calif., but moved back to Indiana to raise his family.
The old fashion ways to work remotely were preventing Goecker from participating with his colleagues like he wanted to, so he went to work with them to create a telepresence robot, the prototype of the Beam.
The device was even featured in an episode of the popular TV situation comedy, "The Big Bang Theory," as "Shel-bot" two years ago.
The Beam could also allow managers to inspect overseas factories, art lovers to tour foreign museums, salespeople to greet customers, family members to check on elderly relatives and many other uses.
Dallas Goecker on occasion travels to his company's headquarters in Cali­fornia, but mostly works from his Seymour home.
At 11 a.m. in North Vernon and Seymour, we had to end our interview. Goecker had to go to work on the West Coast. It was 8 a.m. California time.

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