Despite everything Apple is expected to unveil at WWDC today, a corridor-mapping human scale telepresence robot probably won’t be on the agenda; for that, we’ll have to wait for iRobot and Cisco’s Ava 500. Built on the iRobot modular Ava platform, the video collaboration ‘bot mounts a Cisco EX60 telepresence screen – complete with HD webcam – on top of a semi-autonomous robotic stand, which can navigate the office and bring remote workers into meeting rooms.
What makes Ava 500 special is how it moves around. Whereas we’ve seen robotic video conferencing systems before, they usually require the remote operator to guide them through corridors and cubicles via the online link.
iRobot’s Ava platform, however, works more autonomously. When first installed, it maps out the environment around it using 3D cameras, laser, and sonar; that way, when a user has a meeting to attend, they need only pick which room they want to be in, and the robot can find its own way there.
Along the way, the height-adjustable 21.5-inch HD display can be blanked, or it can show the remote operator’s face, just in case someone in the hallway wants to stop the ‘bot and have an impromptu conversation. If there are more than one Ava 500 units available, the system will automatically schedule them so that the telepresence user gets the closest ‘bot. After the session is finished, it automatically returns to the charging station.
Cisco and iRobot’s video shows the setup as a little wobbly, likely down to the large size of the screen mounted on the top. Ava 500 will go on sale in early 2014, iRobot and Cisco say, though there’s no telling how much the system will cost.