The introduction of the iRobot Ava 500 in June has sparked a
lot of discussion on if video conferencing robots will be the next big
technology trend. This is perhaps true of large organisations, but the
price-entry for robots will make it untenable for the SME.
to TechFlash : "Video robots are not supposed to replace in-person
interaction or even conventional videoconferencing. Instead, they're supposed
to be the next best thing to being in the office or workplace.”
This allows for even more flexibility when it comes to
telecommuting, as the worker will be able to access the office and move around,
talking to different colleagues as he goes. However, is it something that’s
really necessary in the modern age of collaboration and mobility?
Simon Dudley writing for TechFlash thinks not. For a start
he describes the workplace robot as being something of a "Big Brother” approach
to video collaboration, where robots wander the office checking up on staff and
"retrieving wayward meeting participants”.
"In business, this intersection of video conferencing and
robotics is less of a collaborative tool than a management device. While I'm
wholly in favour (sic) of video conferencing and telecommuting, if you need to
have your physical presence at your place of business so badly that you're
considering a robot facsimile – well, maybe you should really be at your
office,” he wrote in a blog post.
He goes on to point out that video conferencing is already
mobile, thanks to the proliferation of tablets and smartphones that can be
It does seem that the ‘ordinary’ workplace would have little
to gain by adding robots into the video collaboration mix at this point. It’s
more likely that we will see smaller firms going for wearable devices to
collaborate than buying a robot that could set them back $2500 per month.
However, for businesses that spend a lot on global travel,
it could be just the ticket according to Snorre Kjesbu, vice president for
Cisco’s Collaboration Endpoint Technology Group.
"I don’t see it as a fancy toy for executives,” he said . "You
can obviously share this thing because it becomes you when you connect to it,
it becomes someone else when they connect to it, so you don’t need one unit per
"If you fly to Shanghai it’s a couple of thousand dollars
for back of the bus,” he went on to say. "If you save one trip a month to
Shanghai it’s paid itself back. If you have an organisation with tens of people
flying regularly that’s certainly easy maths.”
Ava combines mobile robotics with Cisco’s desktop TelePresence EX60
personal video system and features a 21.5 inch HD screen and camera on top of
the robot. It can then be controlled using an iPad and users can select
destination by simply tapping a location on a map. A robot is then activated
and takes the user where they want to go in the building, after which the
device is returned to its charging station.
The device combines an enhanced version of iRobot’s Ava
mobile robotics platform with Cisco’s desktop TelePresence EX60 personal video
system by mounting the 21.5in HD resolution screen and camera on top of the
"iRobot is excited to work with Cisco to bring this next
generation of telepresence to businesses worldwide,” said Youssef Saleh, vice
president and general manager of iRobot’s Remote Presence business unit.
"iRobot has been successful in introducing autonomous remote
presence platforms to hospitals. Ava 500 will unlock new markets and
applications for telepresence in the workplace.”