Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ugobe Pleo Update

PC Magazine has an interview by Mark Hachman with Bob Christopher, CEO of Ugobe, about the progress of their toy robot dinosaur, Pleo.

A few interesting clips:

There will be different types of software developer kits for the rubber dinosaur. There will be a consumer version that will allow you to create animations and moods for your robot on a pc through a graphical interface. For the consumer software you will not have to learn any direct commands. The "third-party" SDK will be for programmers who are interested in getting into the head of the robot and re-designing the behaviors for their own application.

They are trying to get the units shipped before the end of the year but Christopher was making no promises. He emphasized that the quality of the product was more important than getting it out early. Sounds like he is really not expecting it to be ready for holidays 2006.
The suggested price will be US $250.

They are trying to get the motions to be very smooth and without the servo grinding sound of most of todays robots. It also needs to react quickly and appropriately in order to maintain its creature credibility.

Ugobe's Three Laws of Lifeforms:
Now Pleo, and all the Life Forms, are governed by three laws. And one of the laws is that they have to be aware of themselves and their environment: the ability to have real-time sensory arrays, and the ability to react to it.
The second law is having the ability to have emotions and show them—feel and show emotion. You don't really care if it's happy unless it's showing you it's happy. So feeling and showing emotions.
And the third thing is that all of our Life Forms have to be able to grow and evolve over time. They have to be able to adapt and adjust, personalize themselves over time, which is really a creation of the user experience over time.

Why will people want a Pleo?

To really succeed in the mass market, there has to be an emotional language between people and robots, where robots can actually feel emotions, and can react on an emotional level. You have to take the mechanics away from everything and create an emotional dialogue. And that's the big thing we're doing, we're creating an emotional relationship where you can feel empathy and feel emotions for, in this case, Pleo.

So you almost have to think about it in a way—how do you get robots from a level where they're not really kind of robots, but something that is really meaningful to us, and it's that emotional relationship to be a big play that allows this market to become where we think it can go, and that's where we're leading the charge as a company.

You don't have to do a lot to affect an emotional bond. You have to do a lot over time to continually make it interesting. People read into their products a lot—they read into the Roomba vacuum cleaner...
There's a lot more appetite that we're seeing exposed in the media to read into and create an emotional bond with something mechanical.

In my opinion Ugobe is designing a new computer interface. Effective cooperation between robots and humans is a big problem. A type of interface like Pleo may be part of the solution.
There are those who believe that it is necessary to have a voice interface with the partner-robot. This is especially true if the robot is a co-worker for manual labor or lifting.
However, humans have worked quite well with horses for many ages and horses do not talk.
Horses are large enough to crunch a human if they get in the way and they need to understand very subtle instructions under difficult conditions - the same worries that people have about robots. Yet the interface between the human and the horse is an indescribable language of movements, sounds and emotional outbursts. It appears to me that Ugobe may be on the way to developing such an interface for robots.

News from PC Magazine: Q&A: Ugobe's Three Laws Of Robotics

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Anonymous Cristobal said...

I wonder if you could get this thing to sort coins- you know the dinosaur mosies over, looks at a coin, picks it up in his mouth, and then wanders back and puts it into a recepticle. Hmmmmmmmmm......

Sorry just thinking aloud...

5:18 AM, June 24, 2006  

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