PHOENIX – Sony Corp. may have put its Aibo robotic dogs to sleep, but the inventor of the popular Furby toy said on Tuesday the market for toy animatrons is anything but extinct.
The robot, about the size of a toy poodle, expresses sadness and disappointment by gently lowering its head and tail when it's ignored.
Rub its rubbery back or poke its feet, and the 3.5-pound dinosaur springs back to life just like something made of flesh and blood.
Pleo made its debut on the first day of the 16th annual DEMO conference, which is taking place in Phoenix this week. The show gives about 70 startups and established companies about six minutes each to showcase what they hope will be the next big thing in technology.
Ugobe Inc., which Chung co-founded, hopes Pleo will be the must-have present for Christmas 2006. The diminutive dino is expected to be available later this year for about $200 each.
"By using breakthrough materials, an array of sensors and programmed intelligence, Ugobe has created a unique animated form that challenges the relationship between human beings and nonliving creatures," noted Chris Shipley, DEMO's executive producer.
Unlike Furby's single motor and microprocessor, Pleo has eight processors that control 14 motors and receive signals from 38 sensors. It also can learn from its experiences — in effect writing its own code as it goes.
"What we're trying to do is recreate life in order to get to an emotional bonding," Chung said.
At DEMO, the robot initially made a cautious debut as it sensed its environment, a small table on a large stage. After a few seconds, its movements began to resemble a living object waking up.
"In a technical sense he's calibrating his servos, but we like to call it stretching," Chung said.
The Pleo eventually took a few cautious steps. When it reached the edge of the table, it stopped and peeked over. When Chung stopped playing with it, it appeared to get depressed.
Still, it's not likely to get as depressed as owners of Sony's Aibo robotic dogs. The company discontinued them last month to cut costs, calling the toys a niche product.
Other companies also showcased products that also mix fun and high tech:
— Blurb Inc.'s BookSmart lets anyone create professional-looking books from a PC or Macintosh. Unlike current do-it-yourself publishing tools, BookSmart offers layout flexibility. It also can "slurp" Web log content into a book and allows multiple people to contribute to a book over the Internet.
Each book, which costs about $30 for up to 40 pages, can be created within 30 minutes, said Eileen Gittins, the company's founder and chief executive. It is expected to be commercially available next month.
— Bones in Motion Inc.'s BiM Active turns nearly any cell phone into an automatic journal of outdoor activities. Walkers, runners and cyclists can record their routes in real time, using their phones' built-in satellite tracking capabilities. It also tracks speed, distance, calories burned and elevation.
All the information also can be accessed and shared via the Web. It also allows routes to be searched, ranked and displayed using Google Inc.'s mapping system. Bones in Motion also announced Sprint will start offering the service this week for $9.99 a month.
— MooBella LLC's Ice Cream System uses a combination of fresh ingredients and the Linux operating system to automatically scoop up tasty desserts. The vending machine, designed for cafeterias, convenience stores and other public places, lets customers choose from more than 90 combinations of flavors and mix-ins using a friendly touch screen display.
Within a minute, the ingredients are aerated, flavored, mixed and flash frozen. The machines also keep track of inventories and sales over a wireless Internet connection.
"Every MooBella consumer can become a Ben or Jerry," said Bruce Ginsberg, the company's president. "Our unique technology is as rich as our all-natural ice cream is smooth and creamy."
MooBella machines are expected to start appearing first in the Boston area in 2006. The price of each machine was not announced.