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The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of Pleo 40

Posted by kdawson
from the and-a-dinosaur dept.
robotsrule writes "This article contains notes from a 1-hour phone call with Ugobe founder Derek Dotson, now CEO of Innvo Labs Corporation, the company that acquired the rights to Pleo at the recent bankruptcy auction. Dotson reveals the hidden story behind Pleo's rise, fall, and resurrection including intriguing facts about the money trail and what he feels caused Ugobe to fail, including how he had to save Pleo's future on more than one occasion. He also lays out in plain detail Innvo Labs's strategy to help owners of older Pleos and those whose units were swallowed up by Ugobe's bankruptcy." We've been following the Pleo saga for years.
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The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of Pleo

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  • What is a 'Pleo'? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrMista_B (891430) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @10:59PM (#29893111)

    Yeah yeah, slashdot editors suck, etc. - but expecting your readers to do your work for you is pushing it, and I'm a long-term reader.

    Pleo: what is it? why should I care?

    Else = Idle

    • It's some kind of a dinosaur that runs linux.

      • by rarel (697734)
        First I thought you meant some kind of old spec'd machine but no, it really is an actual (albeit animatronic) dinosaur that runs Linux.
    • Re:What is a 'Pleo'? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @11:06PM (#29893139)

      Well there's always Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]. =]

      The short of it is: it was an animatronic dinosaur briefly sold from 2007 to 2008, which disappeared fairly abruptly at the end of 2008, apparently due to some corporate shenanigans/infighting (which this article, and the previous ones kdawson links to, document some of).

      It's interesting from a tech perspective because it was the first widely available, consumer-priced animatronic pet (that I know of, anyway) that seemed to have some semblance of a personality other than "weird robot thing", so was basically the first at least sort-of-success in that area. It was also hackable.

      • by macshit (157376) <miles@ g n u.org> on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @12:00AM (#29893357) Homepage

        an animatronic dinosaur briefly sold from 2007 to 2008, which disappeared fairly abruptly at the end of 2008, apparently due to some corporate shenanigans/infighting

        Hmm, so its failure had nothing to do with the fact that very few people actually want an animatronic dinosaur?

        [If the price were extremely low, it might manage a bunch of sales via the "what the hell" route, but the Pleo seems to have been a lot too expensive for that, and it's not exactly a stable business strategy in any case.]

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SpinyNorman (33776)

          According to TFA they did about $20M in sales before going belly-up. I don't know if that's wholesale or retail, but it must represent approx 500K-1M units, which doesn't seem too shabby. Presumably they could have sold a lot more if it had been more engaging and better delivered on the promises made.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by macshit (157376)

            According to TFA they did about $20M in sales before going belly-up. I don't know if that's wholesale or retail, but it must represent approx 500K-1M units, which doesn't seem too shabby.

            It seems to have been priced in the range of $250 - $350 (I've seen different numbers in different places), so around 50k – 100k units.

            • by vlm (69642)

              It seems to have been priced in the range of $250 - $350

              I think that was their main problem.

              The fine article discusses "biodegradable packaging" and such. I don't think that was a relevant part of the failure.

              Reminds me of the failed million dollar condo project near where I work, land where they find approx one dead body per year, swarmed with panhandlers, median local income about $30K/yr, next door to an EPA "brownfield" site, but that's OK, they will sell because they got granite countertops. Yeah.

            • I took math in college too. Put it down to senility.

              Even the lower figure of 50K units seems quite decent for a $300 toy. It'll be interesting to see how much the new company can improve it with software updates, although I think the slow movement is a major handicap to making it seem very alive. Sony Aibo seemed to have more potential (realized at least in the form of Aibo Soccer).

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by baxissimo (135512)

            The cell phone company Au in Japan was giving Pleos away as some kind of sign-up premium for a while. A deal like that could potentially account for a big chunk of those 500K-1M units all by itself.

      • by Gilmoure (18428)

        I'm still waiting for Godzilla Firewire Hub [macobserver.com] to come back.

        *sigh*

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      It's a toy. [wikipedia.org] Quite a sophisticated one. It used cameras for its basic vision system, several sensors for detecting various things about its surroundings and it could sense a musical beat and dance to it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by syousef (465911)

      Pleo: what is it? why should I care?

      It's a women's magazine. Kinda like Clayboy.

      • by Cryacin (657549)

        Pleo: what is it? why should I care? It's a women's magazine. Kinda like Clayboy.

        You must be lesdyxic.

    • by jcoy42 (412359)

      Pleo was a toy dinosaur robot.

      What made it interesting is that it not only pulled off being a toy dinosaur robot, but it did it without being creepy [slate.com].

      The toy originally promised an SDK, but even without it you could get some limited access to it via USB, basically it had a scripting language which was easy enough to at least play around with it. The company also provided some free downloads to override the normal behaviors which you could load via SD card (like pretend to destroy a city, play hide and seek

  • by murdocj (543661) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @11:00PM (#29893115)

    When I read

    Ugobe was a heavyweight company poised for explosive growth and burdened with all the associated expenses and overhead that implies, so they needed a huge explosion in sales. Derek still believes Ugobe would have survived and done well if they could have raised their last round of funds.

    I was reminded of a .com that I worked for during the boom years that had a nice product that would support a small company. But of course, you couldn't get rich creating a small company, so instead they projected a sales curve that started out low and rose exponentially, and thus they could remain "on track" for that "explosion in sales". Ugobe sounds like deja vu all over again...

  • by allknowingfrog (1661721) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @11:05PM (#29893135) Journal
    Bankruptcy sounds pretty vague to me. What did they spend all of their money on? Fighting the uprising of technologically advanced robot dinosaurs perhaps? Did they realize only too late that the chip they installed was capable of switching genders leading to an unforeseen ability to reproduce?

    Hey wait, that would make a great movie...
  • Cohabitation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @11:45PM (#29893307)

    I wonder, how does Pleo do around cats? Does he become food or a playmate?

    • Re:Cohabitation (Score:4, Informative)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:02AM (#29893629)

      If a sample [youtube.com] of videos [youtube.com] on YouTube is any indication, it looks like cats are initially curious, but lose interest pretty quickly, so I guess it doesn't pass the cat Turing test for "actual animal". Smelling like rubber and not reacting very quickly to stimuli probably doesn't help with that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by macraig (621737)

        It certainly seemed to pass the second cat's Turing test, but he was too confused by its sounds and behavior... he couldn't decide if it was threat or food (because for cats really everything animate falls into one or the other CATegory).

      • ...it looks like cats are initially curious, but lose interest pretty quickly, so I guess it doesn't pass the cat Turing test for "actual animal"...

        To be fair, most people a cat meets get treated this way as well, unless they prove their worthiness to the cat by scratching or petting it. In fact, in seems that this is pretty much how cats view everything that's not a bird, rodent, or laser pointer beam.

      • I guess it doesn't pass the cat Turing test for "actual animal".

        That's hardly any indicator. I've seen cats play for a long time with a fabric ball with a tail. Same for a piece of plastic dangling on a string. A lot of them chase laser pointers too. Seems the cat's Animal Turing Test is a bit jacked.

  • by Walt Dismal (534799) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @03:01AM (#29894169)
    While I appreciate the effort people went through to develop this thing, when I got a chance to interact with a Pleo I found it pretty much useless. It was slow and sluggish, and its behavior was light years away from usable or realistic or entertaining. It didn't behave in any engaging way, it didn't DO anything worth a darn. In direct comparison with a Cybie, which was way cheaper, the Cybie performed in more interesting ways yet was a less sophisticated device. I remember waving the Pleo's leaf toy in front of the Pleo, and the dino did not respond to the (simulated) food item. It was a prop and not good for anything at all. Pleo was dumber than a normal pet and was bland and offered no reason to interact with it past five minutes of experiments.
  • The owners like it (Score:2, Informative)

    by Paolo DF (849424)
    Well, you'd say, obviously!
    Disclaimer: I own a Pleo.
    I know that it's not engaging as it could be a cat, but it can be engaging as it could be -say- a turtle.
    Of course this is just an attempt at AI, with some life simulation; so there's nothing like neural-network-simulated-synapses-AI-supercomputer-MIT-experiment, you know.
    What's nice is that there have been a couple firmware upgrades, with actually different 'global' behaviours, and there are a few 'SD' behaviours that can change the way Pleo reacts to
  • Who wants a small dinosaur!? I mean, it can't crush your enemy's cars, or destroy their houses, or knock over power lines. Hell, the thing wasn't even big enough to bite someones ankle convincingly (not that it had any teeth to do that anyhow). Just a waste of good plastic.

    • by Paolo DF (849424)
      Awww, come on! It is a Camarasaurus, not a T-Rex ;-)
      It seems to smile, if you look at it!
      And by the way, there is a "t-rex" behaviour, where it roars! It reminds me of "Lilo and Stitch" when Stitch destroys the San Francisco model he made, hehe.

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