Cisco teams with iRobot to give the Roomba a face (and a bigger body)

Networking giant Cisco(s csco) has signed a partnership with iRobot(s irbt), the creators of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner to build a robot platform called the Ava 500. The combined product will have Cisco’s expensive, but beautiful telepresence software and iRobot’s navigation skills. The results of the partnership are expected early next year.

The Ava 500 platform uses iRobot’s automatic navigation programming to move from location to location without running into people, walls or equipment, while Cisco’s telepresence software gives the robot a high-definition video link to a person sitting at a desktop computer. IRobot pitches the Ava 500 platform for remote workers, but it’s also showcasing the Ava system for national security or even remote factory tours.

While GigaOM may not pay the estimated $2,500 a month lease for this device just so my colleagues in San Francisco can see my pretty face (HA!) at meetings, I like a few elements of this platform. One is that the Ava platform is one that can be shared, so an office might only have one or two of them that remote workers schedule much like they schedule a conference room.

The other is that this system, with its ability to move, can offer a new level of supervision in remote factories or for remote operations that borders on creepy, but might come in handy, in highly automated places. For example, inside a data center, you might send an Ava platform to check out a problem in greater detail, before sending out a person to fix the issue.

As our industrial operations become more automated, supervising such automation will rely on a mix of sensors and software, plus the occasional human assessment. But offering someone a visual assessment on a roving platform might help send the right human out to fix the job. As a company, iRobot has been aggressive in pursing these opportunities.

So while this might be fine for teleworkers, I think the Ava 500 and its ilk have greater potential in monitoring remote or highly automated environments, given the platform’s own autonomy.