iRobot?s products grace hospital hallways, bomb-laden battlefields and now?your office?s conference room. Meet Ava 500, the company?s newest brain-child and talking head thanks to collaboration with Cisco Systems Inc.
Armed with Cisco?s TelePresence EX60 and Aironet 1600 series for enterprise-grade security and interoperability, the 65-inch, 170-pound robot looks to be the next step in remote business interaction. Conference calls and FaceTime and Skype meetings along with several similar robotic solutions work, but Ava 500 will take an out-of-office employee from a voice or image to a physical presence. And an autonomous one at that.
?Ultimately it?s not about the robot,? iRobot CEO Colin Angle said. ?It?s about the experience delivered to the person on the far end.? Unlike other in-office robots that require the remote operator to navigate their avatar?s position within a room (which is dependent on tricky joy-stick skills), the Ava platform?like the RP-VITA recently approved for hospital use? uses laser, sonar and 3-D vision sensors to navigate its environment to waypoints the user selects on a tablet. The user selects a destination and time from a map Ava 500 creates during its own exploration mode, and the robot does the rest, moving through the office and circumventing any obstacle it senses along the way. With the two video settings, the user can elect to interact with people along and display their video image in the ?public? feature, or remain unknown with a blank ?private? screen.
By moving out of the conference room, Ava 500 opens up variety of opportunities for telecom interaction, from meetings to water cooler chat and even facility tours.
The hardware is appropriately adaptable. Technically two independent systems, the iRobot base maneuvers subtly and efficiently while the Cisco EX60?s 21.5-inch, 1080p screen and camera rotates independently to provide the best visual experience. The screen slides from its ?standing? position to 52 inches?perfect for sit-down meetings?and can be directed by virtual controls on the user?s tablet to save specific viewpoints, like a presentation screen or another person?s face, so the user is wholly engaged.
Such high-tech would seem high-maintenance, but Ava 500 is truly autonomous; when its 6 hours of battery runs out, the robot locates its docking center and recharges. As for the Wi-Fi required for the Cisco EX 60 teleconferencing system, only rooms and areas where video conferencing will take place need a strong connection.
Neither iRobot nor Cisco elaborated on financial costs, but Ava 500 stands to move into a rapidly growing global market with highly developed technology. ABI Research projects the global market for telepresence robots will likely reach $13 billion by 2016 alone, up from $556.1 million in 2010. With plans for release circling in on early 2014, Ava 500 might end up being a significant factor in these projected numbers.