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iRobot introduces Ava 500, the Roomba's corporate cousin

July 8, 2013 | Telepresence Options

irobot AVA500

Story and Images by Brad Stone / ISPR

Since the founding of�iRobot�more than 20 years ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinout has produced robots that�vacuum�and�mop�floors,�clean gutters, and�patrol war zones. The Bedford (Mass.)-based company has sold more than 9 million home robots and, in the process, has done more than anyone to move the machines out of science fiction and into the real world of affordable devices.

Today, iRobot (IRBT) adds another product to its league of extraordinarily practical machines, the Ava 500. It's a far cry from the Roomba vacuum, its corporate cousin. The Ava--short for Avatar--is a pricey, wheeled robot designed to navigate corporate offices autonomously and facilitate videoconference calls between workers and their remote colleagues. It comes with a high-definition video screen, some onboard mapping smarts, and�Cisco's TelePresence, a high-quality videoconferencing system meant to create the illusion that far-flung collaborators are sitting across a table from one another. The idea is to "turn an entire office into a high-quality videoconferencing room," says Colin Angle, iRobot's chief executive.

IRobot won't start shipping the device until 2014, and the pricing information is preliminary. But it won't be cheap. IRobot will lease the Ava 500 to customers for between $2,000 and $2,500 a month, Angle estimates, which suggests that it's not an obvious solution for the average startup or small business. IRobot is announcing it today because it plans soon to start testing the machine with customers. "I think this will break new ground for a bunch of industries, including videoconference and robotics," says Andrew W. Davis, an analyst at Wainhouse Research.

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