Wayne Schmidt's Pleo Page Pros and cons of these robotic dinosaurs.
Pleos are 21-inch long, 3.5-pound, life-sized robotic dinosaurs modeled after a newly hatched camarasaurus. They are the creation of Ugobe (www.pleoworld.com), the company that brought us robotic Furbies. Pleos are advertised as mimicking the behavior of a living animal in that they interact with people and their environment. This page chronicles my experiences purchasing, raising and playing with a Pleo to see how accurate these claims are and whether this robotic pet is worth the expense.
PURCHASING A PLEO:
When I went shopping for a Pleo in March of 2008 the going price was $349.99 both in stores such as Best Buys and on the Internet. I was lucky to discover that they were on sale at Amazon.com for $279. After tax and shipping the total came to $340.
My Pleo arrived in a sturdy box
three days ahead of schedule. Over the years I've found that a reliable indicator of product quality is indicated by the quality of the packaging. In Pleo's case the packaging was first rate all the way. Snuggly fitted inside the shipping box was the sales box that holds Pleo.
Carefully constructed of the highest quality cardboard and decorated with impeccable artwork, the box instantly conveyed the impression that I'd purchased a quality product. The box's front has a magnetically sealed flap, which when opened...
provides a picture of Pleo being tickled and Ugobe's three rules of robotics, modeled after Azimov's three rules of robotics.
Opening the lid...
gave me my first view of Pleo. She, my wife ended up naming her Ginger, was firmly packed in a form fitted foam insert. I'm happy to say that Ugobe resisted the urge to wire their Pleo's into the box with dozens of those plastic coated security wires that so many manufacturers seem to love. I find these annoying and their absence once again conveyed the impression that this is a serious, high-end toy.
Unpacking the box I discovered that in addition to Pleo, you get a plastic card with her registration number, a rechargeable battery, charging stand, voltage adapter, instruction book, a USB cable to connect her to a computer and a plastic leaf for her to eat or with which to play tug of war. Every item is made to the highest standards.
The rechargeable battery was of particular interest to me because after reading that it only runs Pleo for one hour, I'd considered making a replacement one using AA batteries, which would last longer even though they are only good for one time. Looking at the electrode end of the battery...
showed me this would not be possible. The three electrodes suggest that this battery provides two different voltages to Pleo, one for the electronics and one for the motors. This complication and the guide book's admonitions that using any other battery pack may destroy Pleo turned me away from trying to make my own.
WAKING PLEO UP:
The first step in bring Pleo to life is charging the battery.
This took three hours, at which time the illuminated "PLEO" changed from red to green.
The battery locks into the dinosaur's tummy. Toward the head is the on/off switch. Toward the tail is the volume control, card reader for updating software and the connector for a computer link.
I inserted the battery into Pleo, turned it on and set it on the floor. It immediately went from the standing position in which it was shipped to a curled up position like a sleeping baby dinosaur.
As per the instructions, I woke my Pleo up by gently rubbing it on its back.
She immediately began stretching and cooing just like you'd expect a newborn waking for the first time to behave.
For the first ten minutes her actions were random and clumsy, just what you'd expect. She also gives off soft bleats, coos, huffs, hoots and friendly growls. (For parents of young children, none of this behavior is in any way threatening.) She also sniffs at her surroundings.
At around 12 minutes she began standing steadily and took her first steps. Although she'd been responding to touch before this, her actions were not coordinated. Now she began reacting to stoking her chin, head, back, etc just like a kitten or puppy would: leaning into your hand to encourage you to keep doing it.
Pleo's actions are remarkably lifelike, so much so that even though your intellect understands that you're dealing with a robot your emotions are irresistibly touched by her endearing movements and reactions. For example, at one point my wife picked her up, cuddling and stroking her as one might do to a kitten. Pleo curled her neck up to snuggle in close, cooed herself to sleep.
This sleep state wasn't like she'd just turned herslef off. She'd occasionally crane her neck to suggle in even closer and made snoring noises from time to time.
After that we placed her on the floor and ignored her. She craned her head around pitifully bleating for someone to pay attention to her and eventually gave out a loud, though not annoying, cry.
(I should mention that while Pleo's motors are easy to hear, they are extremely smooth and not objectionable.)
Pleo also enjoys playing tug of war with her leaf.
She braces her legs, leans back against your pull, shakes her head from side to side and gives out a series of playful growls, just like a puppy. She doesn't have much of a bite so you can't pull hard on the leaf or it'll come out.
Some of her other actions are to use the speakers on the side of her head to locate your voice, if there are no other interfering noises, turn her head and in some cases start walking toward you. Tickling the sides of one of her legs encourages her to raise it so you can shake her paw. Left to her own, she will sometimes walk around. If she comes within 7 inches of an obstacle, her camera senses the object and she'll stop, lean forward to sniff at it...
Pleo investigating a Cookie Monster cookie jar
and then either move in for a closer look or, more often, back up and turn away to head off in a different direction. From time to time she'll get hungry. If you put her leaf into her mouth she'll chew it, making both biting and swallowing noises. It's common for her to curl up and take a nap after eating.
Pleo's battery only drives her for an hour or less depending on how active you keep her. I've read many people complain about this but for myself and the grandchildren who play with her, this isn't a big problem because while Pleo's interesting, an hour's play with her is a lot.
Left on her own, our Pleo will only walk around investigating her environment for four or five minutes before she curls up and goes to sleep. Left alone, it'll remain asleep for hours until disturbed, at which point it'll wake up ready for more play.
The guidebook recommends that Pleo only be played with children eight years old or older. I discovered that my 4 and 5 year old grandsons were very careful with her after explaining that while it was a robot, it was nonetheless designed like a baby and had to be treated gently. They did so and love her.
So far I've been very positive about my Pleo, and for good reason. It's a miracle of miniaturization and autonomous robotic behavior. But, it does have some drawbacks.
Ugobe states that each Pleo matures with it's own personality. Unfortunately I did not have the financial resources to purchase ten Pleos and raise each differently to test this claim. What I observed with mine is that while it's extremely endearing when it's being petted, left on it's own it's boring. Eighty percent of the time my Pleo will just stand in one spot, looking around and making calling sounds for someone to come and play with it. It only walks around 20-percent of the time and then only five feet before it decides to take a nap until someone starts petting it. Since one of the things I was interested in was observing her behavior when left to herself, this was disappointing.
Pleo has a very difficult time walking on carpeting or any soft surface. She doesn't lift her feet high enough to prevent her toes from snagging on the carpet, stopping her from making any forward progress. She does pretty good on smooth surfaces like linoleum of wood flooring, but then she slips a lot, cutting her speed by half. The optimum surface I found is heavy cloth-back vinyl leather such as is used for pool table covers. On this she can step out at around one foot per five seconds.
Many people have commented that there is a problem with paint flaking off Pleo's skin. I'm sorry to report that this is a real problem. After just five hours of use I noticed that the green paint on the bridge of my Pleo's nose, right where people are most likely to pet, was wearing off.
A closer look shows that what's happening is that the paint wasn't formulated to properly adhere to the underlying plastic. It stretches and peals away.
For a toy that's this expensive and otherwise manufactured so outstandingly, I was extremely disappointed that such a design flaw was allowed to slip through. It may not look very bad in the pictures above but remember, they were taken after only a few hours of use. In sort order, even with care, I expect to see large areas worn bare making Pleo look unattractive.
Because my Pleo doesn't remain active for more than five minutes before taking a nap, after four charging cycles my wife and I both grew bored with her. She's great to show guests, who are always amazed by her actions, and to let our six grandchildren play with. But, her short awake times and inability to walk on carpet doesn't make her very interesting to leave out and about the house. Consider this carefully when deciding what you want from a robotic pet.
Four years after getting our Pleo, one of the grandchildren accidentally dropped her from four feet above a carpeted floor. Although she survived the fall, we quickly learned that the impact had somehow erased her memory. When we turned her on she'd reverted to the newborn state she had when we first got her. After half an hour of playing she was back to normal.
One year later we noticed her battery wasn't lasting more than a few minutes. Fully charged it only ran her for two minutes before she went to sleep. During those few minutes she seemed lethargic. I believe the problem was that her battery had worn out. Searching for a replacement battery I found an advance li-polymer battery and charger available on Amazon.com for $100.
It was a lot of money but testimonials suggested it would actually improve her performance over a new original battery. The new battery was by Ucube.com. We got one, charged it for 3 and 1/2 hours, at which time the flashing red light turned steady red, plugged it in and Pleo woke up. She really did seem to be more active than I ever remembered and kept going as long as we played with her. The battery is supposed to last a full two hours. I'll have to take the manufacturer's word for that because I don't have the stick-to-itivness for that.
I found Pleo interesting and fun for the short term but overall, while I accept that $350 is reasonable for the complexity involved in making this little robot, I didn't find it worth it in terms of how much pleasure it provides over the long term. After the first few days all it ended up doing was sitting on a shelf waiting for a new house guest to show it to or a child who might play with it for a few minutes. If it was actively walking around the entire time its battery drives it and could walk over a wider range of surfaces it would be great. As it is I'd rate it as a good first step but needing a lot of work before being worth the expense.
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