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Office robots: No more hiding from the boss

September 11, 2013 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Matt Clinch / CNBC

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but robots could be strolling past you as you make your way out to lunch.

The fight for market share in the small but growing field of telepresence has begun. Much more than videoconferencing tools like Skype, telepresence allows a person with the aid of robotics to feel as if they were present and to give the appearance of being present in a different location.

First up is the Ava 500, from�iRobot. The company has sold 10 million vacuum cleaning robots worldwide and its defense devices have helped organizations across the globe, including the police during the Boston bombings. After 14 years and five prototypes, the company is about to release its first telepresence robot to the public in early 2014.

(Read More:�Robot Revolution: How to Stay Calm and Make Money)

"We had to get all of these human factors right," CEO Colin Angle told CNBC at the 2013 IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin) Trade Fair. "So that means the quality of the audio, the quality of the video, the ability to project emotion and read other people's faces. If we're sitting down I need to be looking at you eye to eye."

Using a tablet computer and some third party video software, iRobot's idea allows users to undock a robot in a remote office and navigate - either automatically or manually - to a desired location in that office. Using its partnership with Cisco, Angle said it can deliver "best in class VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) experience" via a monitor on top of the robot, allowing colleagues to talk to one another.

It effectively allows business professionals to "teleport" to different locations, Angle said, and features enterprise grade security. Angle uses the technology to find his colleagues in the office and have eight-hour conversations. He said he would even look to use the robot exclusively for half a day every two weeks, and even deliver his keynote speech at next year's IFA event using the device.

"I'm trying to give you the experience you would have if you were there in person," he said. "It could be bigger than everything else that we've done. Easily." Pricing, yet to be finalized, looks set to be fixed at $2,500 for a monthly lease or $70,000 for a full purchase.

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