Cisco, iRobot's new bot lets workers roam the office from afar

Cisco and iRobot plan to make a video collaboration robot designed to give off-site workers the ability to visit a manufacturing plant, office or lab with the touch of a button.

Cisco and iRobot, the company behind the Roomba automated vacuum cleaner, have teamed up to bring a new robot to market that's designed to allow people working off-site to participate in meetings, presentations and even roam around an office or factory floor.

The robot will feature iRobot's autonomous navigation, which means there's no need to drive the device. The company's mobile robotics platform maps its own environment, so it can safely navigate busy places like offices, manufacturing floors and laboratories without bumping into people or objects, Cisco says. The robot, called Ava 500, will also feature Cisco's telepresence video software and is controlled by an iPad interface.

A 21.5-inch HD resolution screen will be mounted on top of the robot body, which houses the mobile robotics platform (see photo). The user can choose to put it in private mode, which keeps the video screen blank, or public mode, where their face is displayed. If the bot is in public mode, the user can cruise the hallways of an office via the bot, stopping in on workers to have meetings or casual conversations. When the session in complete, the Ava 500 automatically returns to its charging station.

The Ava 500 could help companies keep travel costs in line, as well as meet any emissions reduction goals. A worker, for example, could meet with potential investors in Paris and then check in on a product line in China on the same day without leaving their office in San Francisco.

The bot will likely be used by upper management or workers in charge of product quality. Some of the potential uses includes remote team collaboration, tours and inspection, remote corporate training and presentations or for executive management to better monitor satellite offices.

The Ava 500 is targeted for availability in early 2014 and can be leased on a monthly basis for about $2,000 to $2,500.

Photo: Business Wire

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