Hate meetings? iRobot's Ava 500 will attend for you
Telepresence robots are a new niche of products that hope to improve the video conferencing experience.
By Priya Ganapati, The Wall Street Journal
Want to work from home? Send a robot to the office instead. The Ava 500 is virtual collaboration gadget from iRobot (IRBT) you can use to make your presence felt at meetings or in the hallways of the office, without physically being there.
In development for years, the Ava is finally available in the U.S., Canada and some European countries through authorized resellers of Cisco (CSCO) teleconferencing gear.
The robot has an automated navigation system and a 21.5-inch LCD screen so it can move around while transmitting a video of your face. Powerful microphones and cameras pick up and transmit surrounding audio and video back to you.
Channeling oneself through the robot requires no more than an iPad Mini. Open the app, select a meeting room or a location on the map and the robot will find its way there and get started.
Telepresence robots are a new niche of products that hope to make the video conferencing experience better for companies.
"The biggest elements in favor of telepresence robots are the freedom of movement, spontaneity and physical presence," says Youssef Saleh, senior vice president and general manager of iRobot's Remote Presence business unit. "Instead of being a video on the wall or a voice on the phone, you get a real presence in the room."
What they don't tell you in the press release
Ava 500 robots aren't inexpensive. Each one costs $70,000, though there is a three-year lease option that ranges from $2,000 to $2,500 a month. A similar robot called the RP-VITA, specifically designed for telemedicine, is already in use at hospitals. iRobot has locked down FDA approval for that device.
Since the Ava 500 can map its own environment, there is no need to drive it, or to understand the location's layout. "The robot will never touch or bump into anything when it is traveling on its own," says Saleh. "It has several sensors including 3-D, sonar and laser, so it is incredibly powerful."
The robot's "neck" can move up and down, and the camera can tilt as well, so the remote user can participate in discussions at standing or sitting height. At the end of the meeting, the Ava 500 simply disconnects and automatically returns to its charging station. The robot offers up to six hours between charging.
No need to change out of those pajamas when done.
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