Saturday, September 27, 2008

Toy Designer Caleb Chung Creates Pleo

A robotic toy dinosaur called Pleo is the brainchild of Caleb Chung, cocreator of the Furby, a furry toy robot that enjoyed enormous commercial success in the late 1990s. The Furby came out of the box speaking its own idiosyncratic gibberish but over time learned to use words of human languages that it was exposed to. Pleo, from Chung's new company, Ugobe, was intended to be the next step in the evolution of robotic toys that exhibit social behaviors and learn from experience.

Other robotic toys on the market have light and sound sensors like Pleo's, and some can also avoid obstacles, interact with their environments, and indicate emotional states. But with Pleo, Ugobe's vision was to create organic movement and dynamic behaviors unlike other robots in the market.

Pleo nuzzles its head against its owner's cheek in an apparent display of affection. It crouches and wags its tail like a dog that wants to play, or it cranes its neck to let out long, plaintive cries. Pleo's emotive states include joy, sorrow, and anger. It can also be drowsy or even sick--Pleos sneeze and can transmit colds to each other by way of infrared detection, which also allows them to recognize each other.

Pleo's hardware consists of 38 sensors, 14 motors, and more than 100 custom-designed gears. Light sensors and a camera in Pleo's nose help it detect objects, color, and edges. Sound sensors allow some degree of "hearing" when "[Pleo] is still, and it is quiet," Ugobe says. Eight capacitive touch sensors line Pleo's shoulders, back, legs, head, and chin.

Pleo's motors have force-feedback sensors that are sensitive to grabbing or pulling: Pleo may limp for a time if its leg is pulled. Tilt sensors detect changes in body position, and four foot switches allow Pleo to recognize that its feet are firmly planted on the ground.

Click on the heading above to see Pleo in action.

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