It’s a Friday morning in mid-September, and Steve Ernst has already been in offices in Vancouver, Atlanta, New York, London and Denmark. He’s met with people, popped into meetings, roamed offices.
And he did it all from his house in the Carson Valley.
“On a morning like this, I’ve been overseas, so I’m a little out of sorts,” says Ernst, sipping his coffee.
Ernst has been bouncing into various time zones while on a “Beam,” a 5-foot-3, 90-pound robotic device that he can control — moving forward, in reverse, and rotating side-to-side — with his keyboard and mouse.
Ernst is CEO and founder of Event Presence, an international mobile telepresence solutions company. During the coronavirus pandemic, Ernst, a graduate of University of Nevada, Reno, relocated the Bay Area-based company to Northern Nevada.
“I have no interest in going back to the Bay Area,” said Ernst, citing the tax-friendly business environment and lack of congestion as reasons for relocation. “And with our product, I can be anywhere in the world.”
REACHING HIGH-LEVEL CLIENTS
Launched in 2014 in Silicon Valley, Event Presence was created to “deliver an upgraded telepresence experience to anyone from anywhere” that went beyond the traditional videoconference products, according to the company.
This led to a partnership with Suitable Technologies, which manufactures the Beam devices that Event Presence offers as subscription rentals.
“We’re like Ford and Hertz,” Ernst explained. “Suitable Technologies builds it, and then we put it out there and rent it.”
The Beam device, Ernst said, was initially designed as a stationary communication and collaboration tool for its engineering team to streamline day-to-day production.
“Then we decided, jeez, it’d be great if we could have these move about the office or a room unencumbered, and a person could pilot the device,” Ernst said. “So we did that, and before you know it, we sold a bunch of them to Google four and a half years ago.”
Fast-forward to 2020, Event Presence has since leased Beam products to 60 of the top Fortune 100 companies, Ernst said, including Microsoft, Ford, GM, IBM, Walmart and Amazon.
Outside of corporations using the advanced telepresence tech, Beam devices have been used by some of the most powerful, famous — even infamous — people in the world.
President Barack Obama met Alice Wong, Disability Visibility Project Founder, in the White House via Beam in 2015; Edward Snowden participated in a Consumer Electronics Show (CES) fireside chat via Beam in 2016; and even Michael Jordan greeted people via Beam outside of his Chicago steakhouse a few years ago, Ernst said.
THE POSITIVE COVID EFFECT
Over the past few months, Event Presence has expanded its solution into sectors that can especially benefit from using Beams in the COVID-19 era — from real estate to healthcare to education.
Perhaps no industry is in more need of telepresence technology than healthcare, which is using Beam devices to bring a personal touch to telemedicine while eliminating the need for personal protection equipment.
“The reality is, right now we’re busy handling our partners in the market of healthcare,” Ernst explained. “Telemedicine is a big deal. We can do patient monitoring; we do real-time evaluations. If the physician left their clinic, they can be back in it (on a Beam) and sees the next patient.”
In education, Beam devices give distance-learning students (or those feeling ill) access to their classrooms from home. Moreover, students and teachers can visit special events or venues off campus for learning field trips.
Ernst said the company can onboard up to 1,000 remote attendees onto one Beam device.
“It’s not one-on-one anymore,” Ernst said. “It’s bringing one to many, many to one, or many to many. We can do all of it.”
Event Presence also has a big footprint in Las Vegas, where the company has a 3,000-square-foot facility known as the Teleport Think Tank, or T3.
There, the company enhances its mobile telepresence solutions with emerging technology, such as sensors, to provide thermal imaging and patient monitoring in the age of COVID-19, Ernst said.
The space is also designed to display product demonstrations for corporate clientele and be used for remote visitors to pilot a Beam and safely evaluate products, he noted.
Meanwhile, here in Northern Nevada, Ernst said the company has already moved a “substantial amount” of assets to Carson Valley, including a fleet of Beams that are currently being stored in the garage of his home in Kings Canyon near Carson City.
“Our board of directors have approved the move to Nevada from California,” Ernst said. “We're very excited to make the move and support a great community and the state of Nevada.”
Down the road, Ernst said the company plans to secure office and warehouse space in either Carson City or Reno.
“We are focused on expanding our footprint in Northern Nevada as we have in Las Vegas,” Ernst said. “As we deploy more devices in Northern Nevada, we will grow our team there.”