Thanks to a timely heads-up from Robert at RobotsRule.com, we found out that the long awaited Pleo robot dinosaur is finally taking his first baby steps. And, like most babies that are trying to learn how to walk under their own power, Pleo seems to be taking one step forward, one step back, and a little shuffle to the side here and there.
Other than the clear and very positive news that Pleo is finally in production, the latest UGOBE status announcement seems to be a real mixed bag.
The latest UGOBE news update is structured in three distinct sections. which we'll cover in the same order.
First a huge step forward: Pleo is already in production. The company promises that all customers that pre-ordered the robot via the UBOBE store will receive their "30-day shipment notification" before Thanksgiving.
But..., they also state that "Anyone who as pre-ordered Pleo from any US retailer will receive their Pleo before December 25th." While that's certainly positive news, we know from past experience that the product manufacturer has very little control over the product once it is delivered to the retail channel. The retail outlets frequently take their own sweet time to fill orders, overbook orders against available stock, and sometimes do allocations when a product turns out to be extremely hot. Of course, UGOBE can certainly commit to Pleo deliveries to the retail channel's warehouse.
Then there's another step forward - they are adding enhancements to the Pleoworld website so that Pleo owners can exchange experiences and download an unspecified "surprise mode" for their robot.
Next, a possible step backwards - it turns out that Pleo's skin is 'delicate' and his 'paint' tends to flake off as you pet him. They include some example photos in the FAQ section, but the images are pretty small, and there is no mention of how long, or how much petting, it took to wear off the robots paint. At least they came clean up front and clearly state that it's considered normal wear and tear. That being the case, it won't qualify for any replacement or repair under the terms of their warranty. We really have to respect their direct and open approach, though it is odd for a manufacturer to release a product targeted for high contact use in a family environment with known flaking paint issues. They do state that the paint is non-toxic.
Then a step forward - they report that Pleo's Life OS software enables full interaction, organic movements, expressing emotion, and autonomous exploration of the robots environment.
But... with another possible step backwards, they point out that the software that will initially ship with Pleo this year only allows for 'subtle shaping of personality and temperament..." They go on to explain that development plans were delayed due to the effort required to support the external charging battery changes. While that seems rather odd since you would typically have engineers and developers with very different skill sets working on the battery issues versus the AI software/personality behavior aspects, we'll have to take their comments at face value.
Pleo is one of the most exciting products we've seen for years, perhaps even 'magical' to use UGOBE's words. It's natural enough to run into a few snags and false steps with a project so complex and demanding.
In an odd but perhaps appropriate way, we've started to think of this innovative robot as "Pleo 1.0" in much the same way we experienced Windows 1.0 more years ago then we would ever admit to publicly. We're really looking forward to the opportunity of owning and playing with one (1.0) - hopefully sometime in the not too distant future. And, then Pleo 2.0, 3.0, and eventually Pleo 3.1 and even the ultimate version - Pleo XP!
Heaven forbid that they even think about a Pleo Vista version though.