Pleo – an absolute beauty in the world of robots
In the words of John Sosoka, chief technical officer of Ugobe, many of today’s consumer robots have "really celebrated being a robot…if you look at Roboraptor or Sony AIBO, the cool thing about them [is] that they [are] a robot." Then there’s Pleo, Ugobe’s
new robotic life form. Pleo celebrates being a dinosaur.
Instead of having a boxy body and limbs with visible joints, Pleo resembles a baby Camarasaurus. Camarasaurus was a sauropod, or a large, plant-eating, four-legged dinosaur. Camarasaurus lived about 150 million years ago in what is now North America and
Europe. They could grow to more than 60 feet (18 meters) in length and weigh about 40,000 pounds (18 metric tons). But babies of the species, which hatched from eggs, were small — about the size of Pleo.
Unlike real dinosaurs, Pleo doesn’t really have a gender. "It’s not necessarily a hue, [but "he"] is just easy for me," says Sosoka. For consistency, we’ll assume Pleo is male, too. For the first five to 10 minutes of his life, Pleo acts as a hatchling,
slowly opening his eyes and getting used to the light. Then, for 30 to 45 minutes, he’s an infant, slowly and tentatively exploring and getting used to the world around him. After that, he’s a juvenile. He grazes walks, sniffs, plays and wiggles. He explores
the world, responds to people and other Pleos, and interacts with his environment.
The next step was to take that basic idea of a walking robot and transform it into a walking dinosaur. Doing this involved a team of experts, and not just experts in robotics. "A lot of the things we need are very, very specialized," Sosoka says. "We have
a kind of extended family of contractors … we have to fly different people [in] from different places to do that." The team working on Pleo could change from day to day. "We have special AI talents and sensor talents and all kinds of things … You don’t
know exactly which kind of people you are going to run into when you are out there."
It takes more than just a realistic layer of artificial skin to make this process seem lifelike instead of robotic. And while Pleo has many of the same components that other robots do, they work together with a slightly different purpose — to create the
illusion of life. Instead of just creating a functional robot, they create a convincing representation of a baby dinosaur.
In this article, we’ll explore the technology behind Pleo. We’ll start with a look at how Pleo came to be and why he looks like a Camarasaurus instead of a T. Rex or Utahraptor.