iRobot hopes someday soon a robot waiter will deliver your food–and it might well use an Android tablet to see, hear, speak, and think. Today there are two general robot types that are sustainable businesses: high-end, expensive ones for defusing bombs in Afghanistan or monitoring radiation in Japan, and low-end ones for vacuuming. Angle wants an intermediate category and believes tablets will enable that market to develop.
AVA grafts a tablet onto a mobile robot body that can navigate floors. An Android-powered Motorola Xoom tablet was not just the brains of the operation, but the senses and face as well.
The tablet is the head
* camera and microphone for visual input
* a screen and speakers to let people interact with the robot
It sits on top of a stalk and a wider base with wheels to move. The robot can move up to 2 meters per second, avoiding obstacles–not just fixed ones, but moving ones such as a person jumping in the way
iRobot showed an AVA robot with an iPad at CES in January, but Android is a better match because of abilities such as voice and video chat, Angle said.
“We are tablet-agnostic. We’ll support both [ipad and android tablets]”
The initial model will be aimed at developers. Angle believes early models could be useful within a business for telepresence–pestering people who are ignoring their mobile phones, for example, or being a real-world avatar in a meeting.
“Once you get the price down, you can put it into homes,” he said. “You could have virtual visits from doctors and nurses.”
iRobot plans to sell a developer version this year and a business version next year.