Pleo RB: Reborn robot dinosaur trying hard to overcome its past difficulties
Pleo, the robot dinosaur, has been around for quite a few years. It was touted, and created a tremendous stir, for at least a year and a half, perhaps longer, before finally making it to the market. And, as amazing as the Ugobe Pleo technology was, it was very difficult to successfully design, manufacture, promote, and distribute.
The robot suffered from a number of false starts, including an unexpected delay just before the scheduled launch to completely redesign the battery and recharging approach. Unfortunately Pleo still seems to suffer from that problem since the robot can't automatically find its way back home to a charging station to feed itself. That definitely breaks the "life form" illusion.
There were other problems, like the paint flaking off the robot dinosaur's skin - not something recommended for a "toy" marketed to become a part of your household, much like your family dog or cat. While the learning AI designed into the Pleo was surprisingly realistic, it required a lot of focus and dedication on the part of the robots parents (owners) in much the same way that they would be expected to work with a new puppy. Most people in today's "instant gratification world" don't have that much interest or patience. And, unlike a puppy that continues to grow up, learn new routines, and is highly interactive, the Pleo robot soon hits its upper development limit and owners tend to lose interest.
Ugobe eventually ran into financial difficulties and closed down. Fortunately the Pleo design and assets were salvaged, and the robot was given a new life as Pleo RB - with the "RB" meaning "Re-Born." Some of the original robot shortcomings have been addressed. For example, the robot now has additional tools and features - leaves and food items along with AI routines to enhance interaction and play value. The battery life has been increased by as much as 50% allowing longer operational time. The company was also mentioning at the CES 2011 show that the paint flaking skin has been improved to minimize that problem, though Pleo RB ships with a cute coat to cover its back...
Pleo RB is an excellent example of what can be accomplished. Its combination of AI and sensor technology set a new standard, and was totally inspirational. At the same time, it ran into some serious design, implementation, and finally business issues that put its life in jeopardy. We're hoping that the latest Pleo RB robot configuration will finally catch on and achieve the success that its predecessor fell short of. It definitely deserves it. The good news is that Pleo is an "Exciting New Robot" to a lot of potential customers that never had the opportunity to interact with it in the past.
Pleo RB video from CES 2011: