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Circuit Breaker

iRobot spinoff Ava Robotics launches autonomous telepresence bot

“Don’t look now but he’s snuck up behind you again.”
Image: Ava Robotics

Ava Robotics, a relatively new company spun off from robo-vacuum maker iRobot, has launched a new telepresence bot named Ava.

Ava is an update on the Ava 500, which iRobot launched back in 2013, and it adds a few hardware and software tweaks: the number of cameras has been increased from one to three, the sound quality on both ends has been improved, and gesture-based controls have been added to the robot’s control app. Like its predecessor, Ava’s video conferencing software is supported by Cisco, and it can autonomously navigate office environments, finding its way to specific areas and returning to its charging post without human guidance.

As Ava Robotics’ vice president of product, Marcio Macedo, explains to The Verge: “The first day the Ava arrives on site, we escort it around that space so it knows the boundaries. Then based on that map it can navigate, avoid collisions, and find alternate paths to its destination. So when you’re scheduling a meeting using Ava, you don’t have to worry about finding your way. You can send it straight to someone’s desk.”

When iRobot launched the original Ava 500, it sold the device for nearly $70,000. This time around, Ava Robotics is trying a different approach: instead of buying the robot outright, businesses will hire it for under $1,000 a month. (This price includes technical support.) It’s a sensible approach considering rival telepresence robots sell for less than $5,000. Making telepresence a monthly expenditure rather than a one-off cost is more appealing to corporations, says Macdeo. “It pays itself back in one business trip,” he says.

Telepresence robots remain a niche technology, though, despite improvements to products. As a way of interacting with colleagues, it’s still a limited experience, although it offers tangible benefits over regular video conferencing. Let’s see if Ava can move things on once more.