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Meet the Ava 500, the Roomba's Corporate Cousin

The Ava 500 patrols offices to set up videoconference calls
Meet the Ava 500, the Roomba's Corporate Cousin
Photograph courtesy of iRobot

Since the founding of iRobot more than 20 years ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinout has produced robots that vacuum and mop floors, clean gutters, and patrol war zones. The Bedford (Mass.)-based company has sold more than 9 million home robots and, in the process, has done more than anyone to move the machines out of science fiction and into the real world of affordable devices.

Today, iRobot adds another product to its league of extraordinarily practical machines, the Ava 500. It’s a far cry from the Roomba vacuum, its corporate cousin. The Ava—short for Avatar—is a pricey, wheeled robot designed to navigate corporate offices autonomously and facilitate videoconference calls between workers and their remote colleagues. It comes with a high-definition video screen, some onboard mapping smarts, and Cisco’s TelePresence, a high-quality videoconferencing system meant to create the illusion that far-flung collaborators are sitting across a table from one another. The idea is to “turn an entire office into a high-quality videoconferencing room,” says Colin Angle, iRobot’s chief executive.