Ever since UGOBE showcased the Pleo a couple of years ago, I’ve lusted after one. Whilst some will consider it to be just another toy, others will take a closer look and realise that there’s much more to it than meets the eye. The Pleo packs some of the most advanced robotics and sensory technology that has ever been put in to a consumer level product. I’ve come across a few in the past with the i-Sobot and the Robosapien, but none of those really cater toward the bitter taste that was left when Sony pulled the plug on the robotic dog dubbed the AIBO back in 2006.
Pleo is designed to be an all-in-one companion, pet and entertainment device bundled in to a little package of joy. Suitable for both adults and children, all walks of life will find the Pleo to be an adorable device. This begs the question of how much emotional attachment one should have with what is essentially a bag of bolts and servos, but ultimately, the Pleo successfully fulfils the needs of a particular market segment that no other product right now is able to.
The designers have gone for a cute but not so cuddly look and feel for Pleo based on the Camarasaurus. Whilst he looks adorable with its bright blue eyes with blinking eyelids and wagging tail, the rubbery skin is a little rough to touch, on the plus side it’s hard wearing and easy to keep clean. Measuring at 21-inches in length and standing at 7.5-inches tall, Pleo uses a rechargeable battery made up of NiMH cells. This isn’t your typical ‘puppet’ robot that comes with a remote. Pleo is a completely autonomous robot that works through user interaction rather than mashing buttons.
Underneath that cute and cuddly exterior, there’s a whole bunch of technologies mixed together to imitate the movement, expressions and emotions that the Pleo is capable of.
Some of the sensors include the eight touch sensors that are integrated in the body of the Pleo so that it can ‘feel’ when its touched and respond appropriately. An infrared sensor inside the mouth detects any objects placed inside. You can use the plastic leaf that ships in the box to feed Pleo or have a tug of war match by trying to lightly yank the leaf from its mouth. A colour camera located on its head allows the Pleo to detect objects in its surrounding environment so that it can go exploring on its own. Combine those with the microphone, ground sensors, tilt and shake sensors and a couple of speakers for audible feedback, and you’ve got yourself a fully functioning Pleo.
Of course there’s going to be limitations to what the Pleo can do and how close it can emulate a real pet. However, UGOBE has got most of it pretty close to the real thing. From the first time you switch it on, you get to experience the birth stages of Pleo. The first few hours are spent training the Pleo to stand and walk. Depending on how you nurture Pleo, it will develop a personality of its own thanks to its Life OS. This means that any abuse or cruelty inflicted on Pleo does make a difference to how it works later on in life. Whilst Pleo will respond positively to strokes to the chin and will start to laugh and wag its tail, shaking Pleo or holding it upside down will cause distress and put Pleo in to a sad mood.
Eventually, you may hit a wall where you’ve seen all of Pleo’s tricks and you wonder whether you’ve just wasted your money. Fortunately, UGOBE has thought about that aspect. There is a range of download packs that you can get for free from the UGOBE web site that allows you to extend the personality of the Pleo. Recently UGOBE released a Halloween pack that gave Pleo new personalities imitating the characters you’d expect. These are all added via an SD card that can be slotted in to its belly. Pleo does include the ability to interact with other Pleo’s as well, allowing you to unlock further interaction and capabilities. So I guess some lucky kids out there will be receiving one each!
Pleo is an incredible feat of engineering and technical achievement that has been used to provide entertainment and joy for the young and old. Its great for the kids that have always asked for a pet and it delivers most of the benefits without the mess or cost. Some are frightened by what the Pleo represents, but all I can say is, I can’t wait for the next version! UGOBE has made me wish that I was a kid again. My generation could only have dreamed about being able to order one of these from the Internet when we were just kids.