Say Hello To Ava: Cisco Collaboration Partners Can Sell iRobot's New Telepresence Dynamo

Cisco Systems partners this week got the green light to start selling what could be one of the most unique collaboration products ever to hit Cisco's lineup: a robot.

Bedford, Mass.-based robotics company iRobot revealed plans to sell its Ava 500 video collaboration robot through Cisco solution providers in the U.S., Canada and select European markets. The move comes after a June announcement from Cisco and iRobot in which the two companies said they would partner to bring Ava 500 to market.

Youssef Saleh, senior vice president and general manager of iRobot's Remote Presence business unit, said the company decided the Cisco channel would be its best route to market for Ava 500, given the heavy focus on enterprise collaboration most Cisco partners already have today.

[Related: Cisco Revamps Collaboration Line With New Video Systems, Business Edition Platform ]

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"It's not about selling a robot. It's not about selling a device," Saleh said. "It's about achieving that ultimate goal of having a real rich collaboration experience."

Ava 500, now generally available, includes a mix of Cisco and iRobot technologies. At the core is what iRobot calls its autonomous mobility technology, which lets Ava 500 self-navigate and map its course to different locations within a facility.

The idea is that users can schedule and control Ava's motions remotely through an iPad app without actually having to be present or perform any manual operations. According to iRobot, users simply select a destination for Ava 500 by tapping on a location on a map or choosing a location name, and Ava 500 finds its way using built-in sensor and 3-D mapping technology.

Also included is San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco's TelePresence EX60 system, which is used by Ava 500 to host video and audio conference calls. iRobot said, when desired, remote users can manually move the TelePresence system up and down, tilt the camera and control its height.

iRobot said Ava 500 is being targeted at the enterprise, along with vertical markets including manufacturing and health care. In the enterprise, the thought is that Ava 500 could allow remote managers to have a physical presence during meetings, while in verticals such as health care, Ava 500 could help doctors on the road collaborate more closely with their teams or have face time with their patients.

Managed service provider and video integrator giant Yorktel is one of the first Cisco partners to sign on to sell Ava 500. Mike Swade, executive vice president of sales and business development at Eatontown, N.J.-based Yorktel, said Ava 500 presents an opportunity for Yorktel to not only grow its hosted videoconferencing business, but to offer customers new and cutting-edge collaboration hardware.

"We see this as a natural next extension in the mobile space," Swade said. "The whole robotics space and the way that industry itself is evolving, this is going to be a completely new avenue for us and I think it opens up a whole application suite that the market hasn't yet been able to tap into or understand."

All Cisco Certified partners are eligible to sell Ava 500, and can get the robot either through Cisco distributors or through iRobot directly. iRobot said Ava 500 sells for $69,500, or can be leased for between $2,000 and $2,500, based on the terms of the lease.