CES: Pilot iRobot's AVA telepresence bot with iPad

iRobot's AVA is a tablet-controlled robot that can serve as a telepresence interface or an interactive butler.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read

iRobot CEO Colin Angle introduces AVA, a tablet-controlled robot with telepresence functions. Tim Hornyak/CNET

LAS VEGAS--What if you could control a 5-foot-tall robot with your iPad? iRobot's AVA, introduced today at the Consumer Electronics Show, is a self-navigating, tablet-controlled droid that can map out environments, project your presence into remote locations, and turn virtually any app into a mobile platform.

"You just tap your tablet screen to tell it where to go," said iRobot CEO Colin Angle, who introduced a prototype of the machine. "It could be serving drinks or act as a mobile alarm clock."

AVA, short for "avatar," is a three-wheel platform that runs on software from the company's military robots like PackBot. It has a Wi-Fi-linked tablet mounted on a mast that can move up and down, from about 3 feet to a maximum height of about 5 feet.

The robot has two PrimeSense sensors, the same ones used in the Kinect for Xbox 360, as well as microphones and speakers, laser rangefinders, scanning acoustic sensors, and bump sensors for obstacles.

It can move in any direction, with a top speed of about 6 feet per second. Aside from its excellent maneuverability and speed, using a tablet (or any Android device) opens up a wealth of applications as well as programming by myriad app developers.

Unlike telepresence robots that rely on remote control to move around, AVA can learn and map out its environment, taking some of the navigation tedium out of telepresence.

iRobot doesn't have a release date yet, but Angle said the company is actively seeking application developers for the platform. The telepresence robotics field keeps growing steadily, and if iRobot's success with Roomba is anything to judge by, it looks poised to go mainstream before too long.