Cisco Systems is bringing its TelePresence video conferencing technology to iRobot's Ava 500 collaboration robot.
Cisco and iRobot have signed a joint marketing agreement and are working together to bring Ava 500 to market, according to officials with both companies. In addition, they will show off the robot during the InfoComm 2013 Conference and Expo in Orlando, Fla., which kicks off June 12.
Ava 500 is being designed to enable someone in one part of the world to participate in meeting with people in another site, and to be able to move around—such as during a tour of a facility—even if they're not on-site.
iRobot has a video on its Website showing the Ava 500 in action.
"iRobot is excited to work with Cisco to bring this next generation of telepresence to businesses worldwide," Youssef Saleh, vice president and general manager of iRobot's Remote Presence business unit, said in a statement. "iRobot has been successful in introducing autonomous remote presence platforms to hospitals. Ava 500 will unlock new markets and applications for telepresence in the workplace."
Video collaboration has been increasing in popularity over the past several years as businesses look to improve worker productivity while saving money on expenses like travel. At the same time, companies are using it to change the way they communicate with employees, and for jobs like corporate training. Cisco leveraged that demand with its TelePresence technology, but the shift in recent years has been away from expensive hardware and toward software solutions that can be used by an increasingly mobile workforce and in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments.
In May, IDC analysts in a report said that in the first quarter, revenues for video conferencing equipment fell 13.2 percent from the same period in 2012. Cisco saw TelePresence revenues fall during the first three months of the year, company officials have said, and revenues for its overall video conferencing equipment business fell 17.2 percent.
Still, the trend for video conferencing is positive, according to Petr Jirovsky, senior research analyst for IDC's Worldwide Networking Trackers Research.
"Despite another weak quarterly performance in the worldwide enterprise video conferencing market, we still see video adoption being driven by interest in doing video integrations with vendor [unified communications and collaboration] portfolios and business processes, as well as the increasing use of video collaboration for small workgroup, desktop, and mobile users," Jirovsky said in a statement at the time. "Video as a key component of collaboration continues to place high on the list of priorities for many organizations. But key questions going forward now include: How will these video collaboration solutions be deployed? With more software or hardware? And, as premise or cloud-based solutions?"
Snorre Kjesbu, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, said TelePresence is a key part of the company's broad video conferencing offerings.
"From the browser to the boardroom, Cisco is committed to improving communications, relationships, and productivity by helping people meet face-to-face over distances," Kjesbu said in a statement. "The iRobot Ava 500 is a perfect example of using Cisco's portfolio of high-definition video collaboration solutions to innovate and expand the reach of telepresence."
With the Ava 500, iRobot is putting Cisco's TelePresence EX60 personal video endpoint—typically a desktop offering—onto its own Ava mobile robotics platform. The 21.5-inch HD screen is mounted to the top of the Ava platform, and can be maneuvered via an Apple iPad interface. The user can change the height of the TelePresence display to move between a standing and sitting position.
Through the interface, the user selects a destination by tapping a location on a map, or by choosing a room or employer name. An available Ava 500 at a charging station is activated, and the user can make the trip in "private" mode—with the screen blank—or "public" mode, where everyone can see the user's face.
Once the user no longer needs the robot, it makes its way to an available charging station. The robot is designed to avoid running into obstacles, such as walls or people, and can map out an environment, so users don't have to drive it around the building. Instead, they pick where the machine is going, and the robot will get there on its own.
The Ava 500 uses a combination of Cisco's TelePresence EX60 and the company's Aironet 1600 Series wireless access points for greater security and interoperability.
The collaboration robot will be available in early 2014 through select Cisco partners.