iRobot's Ava 500 video collaboration robot, developed in conjunction with Cisco Systems, is hitting the market.
The Ava 500 is designed to enable remote workers to not only participate in meetings, but also to move around a building and collaborate with co-workers in areas that otherwise would be difficult, such as hallways, manufacturing floors, data centers and laboratories, according to iRobot officials. Users can control the robot via an Apple iPad, maneuvering the Ava 500 down hallways and into rooms.
In addition, the robot, which iRobot and Cisco first spoke about in June 2013, can map out a building, then be programmed to arrive at a particular meeting area at a scheduled time without any intervention by the user.
The robot is being showcased this week at the Enterprise Connect 2014 show in Orlando, Fla., at Cisco's booth and that of Yorktel, an Ava 500 reseller. The robot is another way to extend the reach of video conferencing throughout an enterprise, according to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group.
"For truly amazing things to happen, video needs to be available everywhere—on every pane of glass, in every meeting space, and in all the spaces in between," Trollope said in a statement. "The combination of Cisco TelePresence, Cisco wireless networking and iRobot autonomous mobility will help customers collaborate in new ways. This solution demonstrates a level of innovation that we believe is going to be critical to the next wave of growth in the collaboration industry."
The video conferencing industry is going through a transition, with a shift away from high-end and expensive hardware to less costly software- and cloud-based solutions, according to analysts at IDC. Video conferencing equipment sales continue to decline—17.9 percent in the fourth quarter 2013—but interest in video conferencing as a collaboration tool remains high among businesses, they said.
Established leaders Cisco and Polycom have seen smaller vendors like Vidyo, Zoom Video Communications and Blue Jeans Network muscle into the market with software- and cloud-based offerings that address such enterprise trends as worker mobility, cloud computing and bring-your-own-device (BYOD). Cisco and Polycom also are aggressively building out their capabilities in these areas, though they continue to push higher-end hardware solutions as well.
Polycom in February unveiled the RealPresence Immersive Studio offering, which includes multiple large panels but also has features that support the consumerization of IT trend by enabling remote users to participate in the meetings via their mobile devices. In leading up to Enterprise Connect, Cisco March 12 rolled out a range of offerings—including three new TelePresence systems—aimed at bringing video conferencing to every boardroom.
iRobot's Ava 500—which has been beta tested by businesses, including Fortune 500 companies like Bayer—dovetails with that ambition, according to Cisco officials. The robot leverages Cisco's TelePresence EX60 personal video endpoint, which is typically used on desktops. The 21.5-inch high-definition (up to 1080p30 resolution) screen is mounted to the top of the Ava platform, and using the iPad interface, the user can change the height of the TelePresence display to move between a standing and sitting position, and to tilt the camera. At the same time, a user can direct the robot to a particular location by either tapping that location on a map on the iPad, or by choosing the name of a location or employee. The Ava 500 will make its way to the location, navigating busy hallways without running into anyone, according to iRobot officials.
At the end of the meeting, the robot will automatically return to the charging station.
The Ava 500 also includes encryption, secure HTTPS management and password protection for enterprise-level security, and integrated wireless via Cisco's Aironet 1600 wireless access points. Management is through iRobot's Ava 500 Cloud Service, which manages the robots, tracks the schedule and monitors the robot's health.
None of this will be inexpensive. According to new site SlashGear, the robot will cost $69,500, or $2,500 a month if leased.
iRobot, best known for its Roomba vacuum cleaner, isn't the only vendor working on telepresence robots. Other companies, such as Double Robotics, IVCi and Revolve Robotics, also are developing or selling products.