Cisco has teamed up with iRobot (maker of the Roomba vaccuum cleaning robot) to create their own enterprise version of the 'Shelbot' from US comedy series The Big Bang Theory.
The robot, known as Ava 500, brings together iRobot’s autonomous navigation with Cisco’s TelePresence system to enable a remote worker sitting in front of a video collaboration system to meet with colleagues in an office setting or take part in a facility tour.
It is also designed to enable mobile visual access to manufacturing facilities, laboratories, customer experience centres and other remote facilitates in a supply chain.
Ava 500 is essentially a Cisco TelePresence EX60 personal video endpoint mounted on top of an iRobot mobile robotics platform, which can self-navigate busy environments like offices, manufacturing floors and laboratories without bumping into people or objects.
The robot is controlled via an iPad interface. This means that the remote user can select his or her destination by tapping a location on a map or by choosing a room or employee name.
An available robot is then activated to “take” the user where they want to go. The user can choose whether to make the trip from the charging station to selected location in either “private” mode – where the screen appears blank – or in “public” mode – where the user’s face is displayed.
If public mode is chosen, the user can see and be seen, and even stop to have an ad-hoc hallway conversation with a colleague. When the session is complete, the Ava 500 automatically returns to its charging station. It can last for about six hours on one charge.
Snorre Kjesbu, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, told Techworld that, while browser-based telepresence clients on a tablet or smartphone can allow people to be more mobile, Ava 500 allows them to roam from a distance.
“I can't ask my PC to wander around China. What this will allow me to do is to ask the unit to roam about in Shanghai. And since it's a shared resource, I can use it for half an hour, and you could use it for half an hour afterwards, and both of us would have the ability to roam the premises,” he said.
“For me this is a tool in addition to what you have on your PC, your browser, your desktop unit. There is no question that the higher volume is on browser-based solutions and meeting room systems, but it's basically one more tool that you can use for another type of mobility."
Ava 500 is specifically intended for the enterprise market. Use cases include remote team collaboration, executive management (enabling the boss to check up on his employees from abroad), facility tours and inspections and remote corporate training or presentations.
It is equipped with Cisco Aironet 1600 Series wireless access points to enable enterprise-grade security and interoperability in any standards-based video collaboration environment.
“The advantage with Cisco WiFi links is they allow roaming. A lot of base stations or access points for WiFi don't allow roaming. If you're actually on a call using an app, your call will normally drop when you roam about the building, but with Cisco equipment it doesn't," said Kjesbu
Ava 500 is expected to be available from select Cisco partners in early 2014. It will be available to rent from about $2,000 per month. iRobot and Cisco will be exhibiting and demonstrating the robot at the InfoComm 2013 Conference and Expo this week in Orlando.