Pleo – What's Behind, and What's Inside the Dinosaur Robot (Video)


There's no doubt about it. Pleo, the robotic dinosaur from UGOBE, is an amazing creation. It's movements, actions, and reactions, are surprisingly realistic and lifelike - when it has its skin on.

It's August already, and the ramp-up for the holiday buying season is already well underway. Manufacturers are racing to get their products into the supply chain so that they can fill the shelves at WalMart, Target, and all the other major retailers as customers begin their annual Christmas buying spree. For most manufacturers, especially those in the toy end of the market, the holidays are a do or die proposition. That appears to be especially true for Pleo.

To prime the pump and get the 'Pleo Buzz' going, UGOBE has been sending out a series of newsletters and posting new videos (see below) about Pleo online every two weeks. Their latest newsletter was titled "Sneak Peek into Pleo" and provided an interesting look behind the UGOBE curtain.


For some reason the UGOBE folks seem intent on continually showing off what Pleo looks like underneath his dinosaur skin. The engineers, geeks, nerds, and technologists - including ourselves - are definitely impressed, but after a while it starts to feel like they want to push their egos and creative talent out in front of Pleo itself.

One of UGOBE's three laws of robotics is that their creations have to be able to express emotions. The ability to generate an empathetic response from their owner, to 'bond' with them, will be critical to Pleo's success.

But what if Pleo is capable of communicating more emotion than its human counterparts? That thought occurred to us as we watched Bob Christopher, UGOBE's CEO talking about, and being totally upstaged by, Pleo in this video (note: to see the entire video you have to go to the PleoWorld website): 

The second video in the series gives a quick tour behind the scenes at UGOBE, and introduces the key engineers, developers, and designers. One thing that really struck us was the fact that they actually have personality designers - a great concept. Human beings have 'personality designers' too, only we call them parents, teachers, drill sergeants, bosses, and spouses... And, our personality development is much more ad hoc and chaotic.

We have to wonder if Pleo will fair any better in the real world. Perhaps by this time next year there'll be a significant market demand for Pleo pyschotherapy  and and counciling. There may even be Pleo 12-step programs... 

The key point about 'magic' is simply that it is 'magic'. When the magician shows you how it's actually done, then it stops being 'magic'. Remember how magical the Wizard was in the Wizard of Oz, until little Toto pulled back the curtain disclosing the actual wizard throwing the levers and speaking into the microphone? 

If they take all the 'magic' out of the Pleo experience, then what's left? A bunch of plastic, servo motors, sensors, batteries, and sophisticated programing. That's still a lot to be proud of, of course. But for us the real key to the success or failure of Pleo in the market will be whether or not it is 'magical'. Babies are magical. Puppies and kittens are magical. Vacuum cleaners, even when they are blessed with state of the art AI technology, are vacuum cleaners - not magic.

Let's hope that UGOBE finds a way to keep Pleo magical...


4 thoughts on “Pleo – What's Behind, and What's Inside the Dinosaur Robot (Video)

  1. I have to agree with your point. Pleo used to seem almost real to me, but now it’s just a bunch of plastic. While it is still very amazing, I don’t think of it as a real being anymore.

  2. Cool post. It’s nice to see some critical / philosophical thinking about Pleo.

    Personally, I think it’s great that those who are so inclined get to see behind the scenes. Take a movie like Return of the Jedi for example. I don’t think it’s any less magical even though I’ve seen the “making of” documentary.

    Likewise, the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall is no less magical even though I’ve probably read about half a dozen detailed articles about how it was designed and built.

  3. This just reminded me of the quote by Arthur C. Clarke:

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

  4. I agree with the comment about Frank Gehry.

    It’s not just a “hunk of plastic” & those who think in such a negative manner undermine this invention.

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