Ugobe’s Pleo is the latest “electronic pet” to hit the consumer market, and as such, has received plenty of attention from media and consumers. At $US350, Pleo is more expensive than a Furby but cheaper than an AIBO. After spending the last few days toying around with Pleo, as well watching it interact with real flesh-n-blood pets, my verdict is that Pleo is a neat piece of tech, but a bit too expensive and limited for mainstream popularity.Pleo’s endo skeleton has embedded motors in its legs, tail and neck that give it realistic movements. The bottoms of its feet have pressure sensors to detect when it’s on the ground or in the air. It also has two mics that serve as ears, two speakers, light sensors in its nose and mouth, and touch sensors placed all over its body. It also has an SD card slot and a mini-USB port for future functionality upgrades. These motors, sensors and ports combine to make Pleo pleasantly interactive.
Out of the box, Pleo “evolves” through various stages of life. For the first 10 minutes it just sat there, curled up. I realised it was waiting for me to interact with it. As I pet it, it woke up and moved into the next stage of life—adolescence. It was a quick puberty: this phase took 30 to 45 minutes, during which Pleo started to make more noises, react to my petting, and even play tug of war by chomping on its toy leaf (included!). How I interacted with Pleo in this stage determined how its personality evolved in its final stage—pet it alot, and it will always look for you to pet it later on. Ignore it, and it will roam freely, less concerned with what you’re doing. I opted to give it plenty of attention, and as a result it now always reacts favourably to my, uh, loving caresses.
The way Pleo reacts to touching is incredibly realistic, as it conforms its body depending where and how you touch it. Pleo also reacts to noise, and can hear you when you talk to it. It’s ability to emote (well, to simulate emotion) is also hauntingly realistic. The combination of body, eye and mouth movement, along with the sounds it produces, makes you wonder if the Pleo really can feel things.
However, I have my gripes. Though Ugobe was ambitious in trying to make Pleo into a creature that learns, feels and has a personality, I expected more from the end result. While Pleo is great to play with on a tactile level, I question its ability to explore and learn.
Aside from that, my main complaint is that Pleo doesn’t move well on most of the surfaces I placed him on. The bottoms of Pleo’s feet are made with a plastic that lack grip, meaning Pleo slips and looks like it’s walking in place. The surface it movedbest on was a low-pile, office-style, carpet. But even on that Pleo only moved a few feet at most.
I can’t help but feel this lack of movement hinders the experience of allowing Pleo to roam around the living room, or learn tricks, such as the “come” command. After awhile, trying to get Pleo to do anything that didn’t involve petting it felt laborious and unintuitive, similar to teaching a Furby how to speak.
The Pleo is also noisy. To get the effect of lifelike movement, it had to be jam-packed with motors that make a lot of noise. As a result, the C3PO-like noises are distracting, and serve as a constant reminder that Pleo is a ball of machinery.
That said, I had fun playing with Pleo. While its flaws make it hard to justify the price, I wouldn’t call it cheap or ill-conceived. It’s a bit too expensive to make a true splash in the consumer market, but it’s a great start. An upgraded model will most certainly fix 1.0’s limitations, but this is a solid first step for Ugobe, and like the Pleo itself, those first steps are often the hardest.