Video Collaboration & Robots: the next big thing?

News Article - Tuesday, 13 August 2013 11:12

By: Kerry Butters Category: Connectivity

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.

According 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 used.

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 person.”

"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.”

The iRobot 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 robot.

"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.”

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