iRobot's Ava robot uses a tablet as its main user interface. This means it can be operated by a touch screen, but it also means that iRobot can leverage the capabilities of the tablet, including an Internet connection, camera, and microphone. The company wants to test Ava for remote presence applications in hospitals, allowing a doctor to remotely diagnose patients or do rounds with the robot. Seen here is Ava software engineer Clement Wong on Ava's tablet.
In addition to a touch-screen tablet, Ava can also be operated by this collar, which allows a person to pull the robot in one direction or have it restart in ready mode where it's tablet is facing forward and not tilting up or down.
Ava is equipped with several sensors that allow it to discover its physical surroundings. After moving through this office space, it created this rough map of all the permanent objects there. Then a tablet application allows a person to create a cleaner-looking floor plan, assign names to different rooms Ava sketched out, and specify other details, such as no-go zones or speed limits. Then using a second table, a person can see where Ava is in a building and point to locations on the map to send it to different locations.
One of the powerful aspects of Ava is that she uses Android and iOS tablets, which means mainstream software developers can write applications for Ava. One of the engineers working on Ava spent a few weeks learning the 3D rendering capabilities in Android and wrote this application to create a 3D map of indoor space with Ava. You can also press the buttons on the image of the Ava robot to remotely operate it.
One of the key breakthroughs for robotics is the PrimeSense sensor, seen just below the iPad table. This depth camera is used for the gestural interface on Microsoft's Kinect gaming controller. Because it's produced at very high volume, this sensor is available for less than $100 to manufacturers, far cheaper than what comparable sensors cost only a few years ago. Ava will actually use two of these sensors and others to sense objects in front of it and their distance. Eventually, they could be used for gestural interfaces for Ava.
Underneath Ava are three wheels that allow for a wide range of motion. The company is using different colored lighting, inspired by one engineer's truck lights, to indicate its status. Red means it can't go, for example, and pink means it needs to be pushed away slightly.