Friday, January 7, 2011

What Can You Do With AVA (iRobot's new concept robot seen at CES 2011)?

Las Vegas, January, 2011
iRobot had a booth at CES 2011 in Las Vegas to show their upgraded line of robotic vacuum cleaners and a few other consumer products. In addition to iRobot, there were other booths showing Korean and Chinese versions of robot floor-cleaning devices.

Ava, iRobot's telepresence
concept mobility device
But this little gem of a mobile robot - AVA was her name - was there at CES, in a little bull pen, and so was Colin Angle, who described and demo'd it.  It was the hit of my trip to CES because my imagination went wild.

It's a concept robot built inexpensively from other products.  An iPad is fastened on top - and since the new iPad 2's will have two cameras - one front and back  - the iPad could be used for two-view applications, the telepresence visual agent.  Affixed below the iPad is a Kinect-like device for navigation, gesture recognition and additional sensor input. This device could be used for a variety of apps like hands-free communication with the iPad, following the actions of a nurse, etc.  Driving the whole thing is iRobot's core mobility device and nav system.

When I asked Colin about whether it was iRobot's version of a telepresence robot he said that it wasn't anything just yet - rather, it was a mobile device, cheaply made from user-friendly components, waiting for users to provide the apps for it to do their bidding.  It's modular and customizable and wide open for applications.  Then I asked him whether it was a home health device and he smiled and said that once it matured into something, their health robotics unit would be the first to make use of it.

PC Magazine's Lance Ulanoff video-interviewd Colin Angle describing Ava:



The app store concept for robotic apps and add-on devices is, in my opinion, the right approach to maximize implementing mobile robots for various tasks. Willow Garage certainly supports the app store concept.  Right now they're running a contest to find apps that combine an RGB-D sensor (a Kinect or Kinect-like device) with their ROS (Robot Operating System) to produce something new, interesting and fun. PS: The contest ends on January 23rd. Rod Brooks' is intending to launch a Heartland Robotics apps store for their new factory assistant robot.

Perhaps when the iPad2 is announced, iRobot will launch a similar contest to find apps and add-ons for their mysterious new robot named AVA. What kinds of apps and/or add-ons do you see for AVA?