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Telepresence Wanders the Building, Thanks to Cisco, iRobot

Telepresence Wanders the Building, Thanks to Cisco, iRobot
June 10, 2013 11:26AM

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Cisco and iRobot said the Ava 500 was specifically designed for off-site two-way communication when "movement and location spontaneity" are important to provide mobile visual access, such as tours of manufacturing facilities, labs, or remote facilities in a supply chain. A person in New York could experience a tour of a factory in China with Ava, for instance.

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Telepresence no longer needs to be stuck in a conference room console or on a desk. On Monday, Cisco and iRobot jointly launched an autonomous, mobile video conferencing display.

The new product, with the appropriately semi-humanoid name of the Ava 500, stands 5 feet 5 inches tall, and consists of a rolling pedestal with a "head" of a 21.5-inch HD video screen.

The collaborative product is being demonstrated at the InfoComm trade show, taking place this week in Orlando. The unit is designed to intelligently maneuver by itself, not unlike iRobot's best known line of products, its circular Roomba vacuum cleaner robots. But Ava can also be controlled remotely by someone on the other end of the conversation, via an iPad.

'Movement and Location Spontaneity'

The companies pointed out that the unit is specifically designed for off-site two-way communication when "movement and location spontaneity" are important to provide mobile visual access, such as tours of manufacturing facilities, labs, or remote facilities in a supply chain. An example use case would be a facility tour, so that, for instance, a person in a New York office could experience a tour of a factory in China.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that the best use cases for this kind of unit would be "putting people in places where they don't normally belong," such as factory floors or even bomb disposals. Another example, he said, could include communication with other sections of a very large institution, such as researchers in one university science lab demonstrating their work in real-time to collaborators in another lab in a distant part of the campus.

Ava combines iRobot's mobile robotics platform with Cisco's TelePresence EX60 personal video endpoint, which traditionally has been a desktop solution. Cisco's Aironet 1600 Series wireless access points are used to ensure enterprise-level security and interoperability.

Standing, Seated

Since a remote worker might never have visited the distant factory or office, Ava is designed to map out a floor plan via an exploration run, using its obstacle detection and avoidance features.

iRobot said the unit will determine the shortest path between two points, and the safest. Ava will navigate by itself around temporary obstacles, such as people standing in the hallway, and can travel in "private" mode -- when the screen is blank -- or in "public" mode, with the user being seen. When a meeting is completed, Ava automatically returns to its charging station.

The remote worker who is controlling Ava can also lower the pedestal, so their face on the display is less imposing as a "standing" position and can assume a lower "seated" position. Ava, available early next year, is expected to cut down on travel costs, but it will need a fair amount of travel savings to recoup its price tag, about $70,000. If leased monthly, it's around $2,000 to $3,000.

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