IRobot, the company that cribbed its name from the annals of sci-fi greatness, rolled out a drone at the Consumer Electronics Show designed to help engineers and developers explore how to get robots to do what we want, as well as things we never thought of but soon won’t be able to live without.
At first glance, iRobot's Ava looks like a Roomba vacuum cleaner jury-rigged with a Microsoft Kinect and an Apple iPad tablet. And, indeed, on a closer look, it is. But according to the company's brochure it is much more. It has a “comprehensive sensor arrays (laser, sonar, and 2-D/3-D imaging)...” The whole concept is that it is a development platform for the various technologies that make robots cool (or scary), so it is a very simple robot by itself, but it has the potential to do many thing you would expect from an autonomous robot, and possibly some you wouldn't.
The brochure also include some images of things you might want have your Ava do, like collaborative work, caregiver support, mobile kiosk or security. Mostly it shows things that you can already do with an iPad, but now it has legs of its own.
Other cool features include touch-sensitive skins, autonomous charging, speech recognition and omni-directional motion as well as Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.
The idea is that if you’re the guy who designs robotic claws, or facial recognition software that allows a robot dog to follow its human boy to the bus stop in the morning and pick him out of the crowd of kids getting off the bus at the end of the day, the first thing you need before you can really get down to business is a robot. One that actually works. This can be somewhat of a barrier to entry for roboticists who don’t work for DARPA or Michael Bay.
Ava can move independently, navigating through crowded rooms using its sensor array, or it can just follow you around, all while being aware enough of its surroundings to stay out of trouble while it tags along. That might not sound like a lot, but a lot of different technology is needed to make that happen.
-- Tim French