How Pleo Works

Pleo: A robotic Camarasaurus
Photo courtesy Ugobe

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.

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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 he, [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.

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.