Connecting Makers and Mentors with Telepresence

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Beam®: The Telepresence Robot Used in the NiMC Project

Cynthia on beam

A Mobile Telepresence Robot (MTR) is a computer or tablet or smart-phone controlled robot which includes video, audio, and controls. These features enable an MTR 'pilot' to interact with a distant environment.

MTR’s have been used and researched in many domains including hospitals, in-home care settings, emergency response scenarios, academic conferences, and corporate environments (Stoll et al, 2018).

Geographic distance in Nebraska is one of the largest barriers to student participation in Makerspaces, and this issue is compounded further by a general lack of mentors in these areas who have the skills necessary to lead and guide communities of learners. The project team’s goal is to deploy and utilize telepresence robots in Sidney Public Library and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Innovation Studio as catalysts to creative focused teaching and learning for rural youth as they develop their Maker projects.

The research team is investigating makerspaces using two main strategies; virtual collaborative spaces and robotic telepresence, to provide rural youth and their community access to the Maker movement. If successful the grant will produce a replicable strategy of reaching rural underserved youth audiences and their communities so that they may participate in the Maker experience.

The project chose Suitable Tech’s BEAM® for the use in the project.

To date over 500 calls have been made, with a total connection time of 133 hours, 57 minutes, 25 seconds, by 18 pilots


Monika giving a tour on beamWe provide tours of the space pretty often, especially at the onset of the project. The tours serve a double purpose. One goal is to show off and tour the space with community and interested partners. 4-H Educators, Connie and Cynthia, have provided a telepresence tour during formal and impromptu meetings. The other goal is to show off the Beam®. People are pretty amazed the telepresence robot is so easy to control and how well the video and audio work.

Direct Instruction & Tool SOP Training

One of the ways Beam® is being utilized is in trainings and project support. In the picture above, Charlie B. is supporting Vickie M. and Dr. Barker develop a project on the Vinyl Cutter. The Beam® has allowed the team to provide support on multiple projects using the laser cutter, CNC machine, and 3D Printer. Charlie B. has used Beam® in conjunction with Zoom screen sharing when providing support with software.

The project team successfully piloted SOP's training conducted with the telepresence robot.

Dane teaching how to use the 3d printer via beam

Charlie helping victoria


Dagen on beam co teachingCo-teaching has been a rewarding experience for the project team and participants. The co-teachers are usually a Beam® Pilot and a youth or teacher in the makerspace. For example, during the Sidney Open house in December, Dagen co-taught a simple activity with Cynthia Gill and Youth Leaders. The activity was making a light-up Bow/Bow-tie, from laser-cut cardstock, coin-cell battery, and a two-prong LED.

In another co-teaching opportunity, all the 5th graders from Sidney, NE toured the Sidney Makerspace and participated in design thinking activities. Three Beam® Pilots: Dr. Barker, Charlie B, and Dagen (at different times) co-taught a short Lego-building challenge with Nebraska 4-H Educator Cynthia Gill and a local educator.

Project Support

The 4-H/Extension leadership in Cheyenne county, Cynthia Gill & Connie Hancock, established a youth-maker group, Tinker Tuesday. This group is comprised of highschool youth and community adult leaders interested in design, tinkering, and making. The group was started in February 2018. To compliment the Sidney group’s meetings the NiMC mentors joined via BEAM to support the instruction and technical aspects of making. Tinker Tuesday kicked off the meetings with a challenging project: A Magic Mirror. The Magic Mirror is a one way mirror with a computer screen behind it giving the appearance of texts or images on the mirror itself. This project mentors, Charlie and Brad, co-built the mirror in tandem with the Tinker Tuesday makergroup. That is both of our locations followed the same instructions and shared insights and personalization of the magic mirror as the teams went along.

brad and Charlie do magic mirror from Lincoln

Group completed magic mirror