The Download – Ready to Replace Sparky?
Robotics startup prepares to launch futuristic toy pet.
Before the winter break, I had an unusual visitor at the Harbus Office. My guest stood just under a foot tall, attempted to shake my hand, then proceeded to show me some of his fancy tricks. I was witnessing the future of robotic technology and intelligent software packaged into the body of a little green dinosaur. Introducing the guest was UGOBE CEO, Bob Christopher. Christopher was at HBS to present Pleo, an autonomous robot that his company spent two years developing.
Pleo is the brainchild of famous toymaker Caleb Chung. Chung, best known as the co-inventor of Furby, skyrocketed to the toy scene in 1998 when his innovative fuzzy doll, released by Tiger Electronics, was a national sensation. Since introduction, over 50 million Furbys have been sold (a $1.3 billion enterprise) and the product is on its fifth generation. Some students may recall the healthy returns (1000%!) some toy speculators made selling the dolls on eBay before the Christmas shopping rush.
Pleo-More than Just a Toy
Pleo might look like a simple toy dinosaur on the outside, but inside he’s all cutting-edge technology. Outfitted with a network of 38 sensors (light, sound, touch), and 14 motor-controlled joints, Pleo moves around with ease while attempting to learn and adapt to his surroundings. UGOBE developers have programmed over 400 preset animations into Pleo and the company hopes by introducing a software development kit and encouraging development, hobbyists will continue to add functionality to the robot. The product features a USB port and an SD memory card slot for future expandability and upgradeability.
Targeted for Ages 8 to 88
The company hopes to appeal to a wide range of users: from young children learning to interact with a toy pet, to elderly consumers looking for a maintenance-free pet.
UGOBE started in early 2005 headquartered in Emeryville, California with an R&D facility in Boise, Idaho. The company initially raised a $2.75m Series A round and is currently closing a second round of funding (expected to be about $8m). While this does not sound like much (compared to the outrageous valuations of many current Web 2.0 companies), Christopher assures me that it is plenty of money for a robotics firm.
Future entrepreneurs take note-the company learned a very valuable lesson while attempting to raise funds: “Demonstrations and prototypes significantly improve your chances.” Investors were initially reluctant to put money in the company-even with an impressive management team and a great idea. However, after the early prototype was demonstrated, the company had “investors ready to sign on the spot.”
Get in Line
The company has been busy preparing Pleo for launch and expects to have the product in the hands of customers this April. If you want to be the first student on campus with one of these hot robots, do not delay and get on the pre-order list now.
The price? About $250. (Just think of it as an early present for landing that perfect summer internship during recruiting week!)
Watch a Video of Pleo in action: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdOZgt8wb9w
Find out more about Pleo at: www.ugobe.com/pleo/index.html
Pleo’s features include:
14 servo joints (torso, head, tail, neck, legs) with force feedback
38-touch, sound, light and tilt sensors including nine touch sensors (mouth, chest, head, shoulders, back, feet) and 8 feet and toe sensors
Fluid quadruped motion
Ability to avoid obstacles and not walk off edges
Sound output, stereo sound sensors and music beat detection
Autonomous interaction with owner and environment including coughing, blinking eyes, chomping, twitching, sighing, sneezing, sniffing, growling stomach, tail drift, and yawning
Distinct moods including anger, boredom, playfulness, hunting, cautious, cuddling, disgust, disorientation, distress, fear, curiosity, joy, sorrow, surprise, fatigue, hunger, and a desire for social interaction
Upgradeable, Life Form OS and Personality System
SD card memory expansion
Ability to communicate with other UGOBE Life Forms
Source: UGOBE Press Release