Domo Arigato

By ERIN BALDASSARI  |  May 2, 2011

robotirobot480

iROBOT


THE BOT
| AVA

THE INDUSTRY | Personal robotics

THE PROBLEM | No one can be in two places at once

THE SOLUTION | An iPad-toting robotic stand-in

LEARN MORE | irobot.com

A telepresence bot is basically Skype with wheels; iRobot's first attempt involved putting a Web cam on its popular autonomous vacuum cleaner, the Roomba. That design died a quick death, but they're back with a much more advanced model: the AVA.

Topped with an iPad, AVA can extend from three feet to a max height of five feet, letting users interact at eye level. It navigates its surroundings using an array of sensors — including a laser rangefinder and Xbox Kinect-style technology.

"She's meant for working with people in human settings," says iRobot's chief technology officer, Tom Wagner. "With an iPad or Android tablet face, she can do a variety of things, from imaging telepresence to mobile e-mail alerts."

AVA is a "concept car" demo model, not yet ready for the market. But by far its most innovative feature is its use of existing consumer technology: anyone who can develop an app for the iPad or an Android tablet can program the bot.

"What's happening now — we all have low-cost communication devices which we would have considered to be a computer 10 years ago," Wagner says. "Think forward 10 years and you're going to see your world wirelessly networked. You'll have a robot that maybe looks something like AVA that offloads information from your computer and mobile communication device, allowing all of these devices to talk with each other."

Wagner wouldn't say what the price point is on a device like AVA, nor would he reveal any plans for development. He did speculate that AVA's expansion ports might suit arm-like manipulators (another specialty of iRobot developed for its military bots), but it's still a long way from Rosie, the Jetsons' lovable robotic maid.

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