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iRobot Ava TelePresence Robot

By: Stephen Toback

Several of us from OIT and Trinity Technology Services met with Cisco and iRobot to learn more about the new Ava™ 500 TelePresence Robot due to be release in early 2014. As mentioned previously, we have a staffer that is going to be out of our office for a while so we are currently testing a Vgo video conferencing robot.  I was surprised at the level of interest for this technology with a few folks responding about the iPad based Double Robotics robot. UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy has purchased one and we’re taking a field trip next week to have a look.The best and most compelling feature of the Ava 500 is it’s use of a pretty much stock Cisco TelePresence EX60 as the video conferencing component. The other two models above use proprietary point to point video conferencing technology so they cannot participate in other standards based calls.

The system is operated through a separate wifi connection from an iPad. The video system also communicates via WiFi. To maximize the WiFi performance, there’s an onboard Cisco Aironet 1600 Wireless access point. If the unit experiences drop outs between access points

The system also features a really advance wayfinding system. You input a map of the floor when configuring the system. Once configured, you just touch a point on the map from your iPad and the system will go to that point. It has 3D cameras, sonar and laser range finders to avoid collisions with objects in its way. Currently the system is limited to a single floor. Moving between floors would require an administrator loading a new map. iRobot is working on multiple floor capability.

It’s 4 wheel base allows the unit to travel over thresholds up to 1.5″ in height. The only controls on the robot itself are volume, mute and camera mute (via a physical lens shutter cover). Battery is about 6 hours of continuous use or 10 hours of nominal use (assuming charging between uses). The unit will automatically return to it’s charging station when it is not in use.

Current use cases include remote team collaboration in rooms without built in conference capabilities, manufacturing and research allowing the system to travel through a lab to look at different items or interact with different people.

The EX60 is in landscape mode as it is during normal use. Portrait use was considered but it was found in testing that portrait caused the user to remain in a restricted space where landscape gave them more flexibility to move a bit and still remain on camera.

The system is currently scheduled via the proprietary software although it is in the works to allow scheduling via Outlook and TMS (Cisco’s TelePresence Management Server). If there is a meeting following yours, you will get notifications starting at 15 minutes prior to your meeting ending. When your meeting ends, the robot will simply turn off and walk out of your meeting. iRobot indicated they are working on more advanced and subtle methods of dealing with scheduling issues.

It’s thought that many folks will opt to lease the unit and the least price will be in the $2000-$2500 range per month for a 36 month lease. The unit will be able to be purchased as well but pricing is not final at this time.


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