Beam Robot Provides Daily Presence and Dependable Mobility for People with Disabilities

About Dr. Jennifer Rode

Dr. Jennifer Rode is a senior lecturer in Digital Technologies in Education at the University College London (UCL). Dr. Rode’s research primarily concerns human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing, subjects that have particular meaning for her since she relies on technology to better cope with a degenerative autoimmune disease. Influenced by Donna Haraway’s ideas on the artificial boundaries between humans and technology, Dr. Rode argues that the division between able and disabled is a social construct, a theory that she articulated in a recent academic publication entitled On Becoming a Cyborg: A Reflection on Articulation Work, Embodiment, Agency and Ableism.

Dr. Rode Adopts Beam

Despite being passionate about her field of study and heavily invested in her university job, Dr. Rode must make allowances for her chronic illness, as unpredictable exacerbations impair her mobility and occasionally prevent her from leaving the house altogether. As a result, she is constantly on the lookout for technologies that might assist her in managing these challenges.

Dr. Rode’s initial exposure to Beam telepresence technology came when a colleague provided  her with remote access to a Beam that was deployed at the Ubicomp 2014 conference in Seattle. She found the experience both productive and enjoyable, and realized that if robotic telepresence could transport her halfway around the globe, it could just as easily provide effortless “commutes” across town. So, using a foundation grant, she purchased a Beam and placed it in her laboratory at UCL, allowing her to “beam in” instantly to the school from home or other remote locations.

Since adopting Beam at work, Dr. Rode has relied on it to remotely engage in “real, productive” meetings with colleagues when illness or scheduling conflicts prevent her from being there in person. Additionally, she uses Beam for spontaneous drop-ins, and fondly remembers an occasion when she accidentally crashed a senior colleague’s birthday party and ended up lending her voice to the chorus of “happy birthday.” Meanwhile, she continues to beam in to industry conferences and symposia that offer the telepresence device to remote participants.