“Can I take a picture of that?”
The robot called Ava 500 rolled down the halls of Cisco’s Building 10. Unsuspecting employees gawked from the communal kitchen.
“I have to show this to my family,” said an employee, taking a video of the telepresence robot autonomously walking the floors.
Frankly, Ava 500 is quite the sight to see. A video monitor sits atop a silver pillar, and the bottom of the robot operates using iRobot technology—the same creators of the Roomba vacuum. The Ava 500 senses when it is about to approach another object, and smoothly moves out of the way. iRobot’s mapping, localization, and autonomous navigation technologies meets Cisco’s telepresence technology in the Ava 500. In this sense, Ava is able to “walk” throughout Cisco’s buildings all on its own.
Youssef Saleh, SVP and General Manager of the Remote Presence Business Unit at iRobot, says that Ava 500 was conceived from collaboration between iRobot and Cisco.
“Collaboration happens everywhere,” says Saleh, “Ava 500 is unlocking the power of collaboration and delivering a teleportation-like experience for business applications in the enterprise, show rooms, manufacturing, retail, telemedicine and more.”
With Cisco’s emphasis on employee collaboration and innovation, the creation of AVA 500 was an easy decision. The telepresence robot allows people to dial in via video chat—meaning that remote visitors or workers can move around, take tours, and attend meetings “on site”.
There’s no one who knows this concept better than Hollye Taylor, otherwise famously known at Cisco as “Virtual Hollye”.
Taylor is the senior executive assistant to John Brigden, Cisco’s senior vice president of software strategies and operations. Her location in Richardson, Texas is a far ways away from Brigden’s San Jose, California office.
“It’s much better than being stationary,” says Taylor, “As John moves around, I’m able to follow him. I can go to the printer, I can interact with other admins on the team, so it’s basically like I’m there, even though I’m not.”
The robot can often feel so human, Taylor explains, that some even forget the Ava 500 still lacks arms and legs.
“When John is in Building 10, I’ll come into his room and I’m able to put the robot in sit mode, so it’s like I’m sitting at the table,” says Taylor, “After we have our one-on-one, he’ll say, ‘Ok, thanks!’ And then I say, ‘Well John, you’re going to have to open the door.’ And he goes, ‘I’m sorry! I just thought you were here. I wasn’t even thinking. I just expected you to get up and open the door.’”
Executive Communications Specialist Justin Riray is known around Cisco Building 10 as the “resident Ava driver”. As an avid gamer, controlling the independent telepresence machine was a huge draw.
“Ava 500 is exciting for kids, and it’s exciting for adults,” says Riray. “I don’t mind taking selfies while embodying the robot, because it makes people happy. It’s what we watched in sci-fi movies 20 years ago.”
This sentiment was no more relevant than when interviewing Taylor on the Ava 500 while walking down Cisco’s halls. With all of the stares and camera snaps, it was like being with a celebrity—a silver, robotic, telepresence celebrity.
But the space age wow-factor of the Ava 500 is not all it has to offer. The collaborative element helps those who are offsite stay in the loop—and the possibilities for what technologies like the Ava 500 can provide for the future are endless.
“Autonomous capable telepresence robots are a game changer for the collaboration industry,” says Saleh, “Teleportation via telepresence robots will be core and ubiquitous in empowering people to be ‘when and where’ they want to be with a simple touch of a button. Teleportation will be a powerful force in boosting organization's collaboration effectiveness and tearing down physical boundaries.”