A startup with financial backing from iRobot today announced a video collaboration system to get more telepresence robots into the workplace. Ava Robotics’ Ava platform is a physical telepresence robot that can integrate into a company’s existing Cisco Spark videoconferencing system, letting remote workers attend meetings and walk the hallways as if they were there.
Two things help differentiate Ava from other telepresence robots, company officials said. First, the system integrates with Cisco Spark and its videoconferencing platform (including WebEx), instead of requiring a separate telepresence application or platform.
Second, the Ava robot can map its own environment and use AI to navigate around the office. When users log in, they choose a location to attend a meeting, and the robot drives itself there. When the meeting is finished, Ava then returns to its charging base station autonomously – eliminating the need for users to have to learn how to “drive the robot.”
“If I have to learn how to drive this thing, and then when we’re done with the session, I have to worry about this physical thing, to drive it back and put it where I got it from, then it’s not going to scale,” said Youssef Saleh, CEO of Ava Robotics. “If the video experience is on an island that I have to develop, or work outside of my collaboration tools, it’s also not going to take off.”
Robot can adjust to eye level
The robot includes several video cameras, including a 360-degree camera, which lets users see everyone in the room during a meeting, with two-way audio and high-definition imagery. The robot also has the ability to “sit,” adjusting its height to eye-level for a room-based meeting, or it can raise itself to “stand/walk” for times when the robot is roaming the halls or visiting a factory floor. Users can control the robot via Web browser or an iOS app.
Saleh said the robot was initially developed for iRobot, but as that company moved more into the home robot market, that it made more sense to create an independent company to focus on the enterprise business space. Still, “we’ve drawn upon iRobot’s 27-year history in robotics innovation” in making the Ava robot, Saleh said.
The company plans to offer Ava robots through Cisco resellers as an option for new or existing videoconferencing customers. It also plans to offer a robotics as a service distribution model, Saleh said. The approximate cost of using an Ava robot would be “under $1,000 per month.” Two companies already using the robots include Hilton Hotels and the MIT Sloan School of Management, Ava Robotics said.
A 2017 report by WinterGreen Research said the telepresence robot device market was $1.4 billion in 2016, with a forecast of $8 billion by 2023 as new devices, systems and instruments emerge.
A 2017 report by market research firm Technavio predicted a growth rate of close to 38% by 2021 for the global telepresence robots market.
“We believe for telepresence robots to take off, it has to solve the problem in the enterprise focusing on the business and the business aspect,” Saleh said. “Some of the solutions out there today – they’re cool, it’s fun to play with it for five or 10 minutes, but does it fit into an enterprise, does it scale?”