I would like to introduce you to iRobot's latest prototype: a new telepresence robot named AVA that was unveiled this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2011) -- see the video below. Through AVA, iRobot intends to explicitly leverage the proliferation of tablets / smart phones and their associated app stores. They intend to furnish actuation (mobile base, pan-tilt unit, telescoping linear actuator spine, etc.), a sensor suite (including sonar, laser, and a depth camera like Microsoft's Kinect), and basic robot software (eg. obstacle avoidance, mapping, and direct physical interfaces). Meanwhile, you provide the brains in the form of a tablet (eg. iPad or Android). In theory, this should open up mobile robot application development to a much broader audience, creating the oft-discussed robot app store. When combined with the recent announcement of the Scooba 230 floor cleaning robot (which I will certainly purchase), I would say iRobot is still innovating!
I'd like to acknowledge the folks at PCMagazine, who wrote a nice article that introduced me to AVA. They got to attend CES while I'm busy working on thesis... Anyway, here is what AVA looks like.
The spine is a telescoping linear actuator (perhaps a Spiralift- or Zippermast-type device?) that extends the robots height. It seems to be commanded by a direct physical interface -- presumably through some form of force / touch sensing. This was actually the most fascinating aspect of the full-length Colin Angle interview on PCMag's website, so I made a very short snippet showing this just this interaction -- the full-length video follows after.
AVA is the second iRobot announcement in the last few weeks -- we just recently learned of a pending update to the classic Scooba line of hard-floor cleaning robots, called the Scooba 230. The Scooba 230 is much smaller than past variants, and it promises to be a hit! Well... at least I intend to purchase one.