Anyone with even a passing interest in dinosaurs and robotics will have heard of the PLEO – a dinosaur robot released in time for the holidays, back in 2007. For anyone not familiar, the PLEO is essential as close as it gets to Sony’s AIBO for dinosaur fans.
Despite initial success – with Ugobe selling close to 100k of these toys in 2 years – they went bankrupt, becoming an early victim on the Great Recession after they failed to secure further funding. It’s a cautionary tale, and one of the reasons there hasn’t been a dinosaur robot anywhere near as capable as the PLEO since.
I’ve wanted one of the awesome robots for a long time, although I’ve somehow managed not to own one in the 14+ years they’ve been around. Now that I’m a dad, I’ve got a good excuse to pick one up, as spending time playing with toy robots with my kids seems a lot more respectable than playing with them on my own.
It’ll probably surprise you that these can still be bought new – well, the newer PLEO rb (standing for “ReBorn”) models anywhere. They’re a little pricey, at $518 – but if you can’t stretch for one, the originals come up for sale on eBay frequently, going for a couple of hundred bucks.
I went for one of the older models, for a couple of reasons – the first being cost, and the second being that the older models are the better choice for programming. This topic is something I’ll cover in later posts, but in short – later models don’t support community-made tools for the original, and they don’t have the a serial port (hidden under a cover next to the power switch), a USB port, and SD card slot on their underside – making the original Ugobe model a better choice.
There doesn’t seem to be much info on programming, with just a handful of patchy resources out in the wild. The community also seems to have waned in recent years, with communities like that over at the forum on bobthepleo.com not being all that active these days. It looks like I’m going to need to piece together what I can find out on my own – but I suppose that’s all part of the fun.
The PLEO cost me $65 – in box, with everything except the battery. While it seems like a steal at first, it could still turn out to be a mistake, as there’s no way to know if it still works until I replace the battery.
There are a few options for the battery. I could buy one – there’s a guy making battery packs in the UK, although they’re a little pricey (I was quoted close to $100 for a completely new one) – or I could make one, using the tutorials available online. In the spirit of tinkering, I warming to having a go at making my own first.
I decided to take a punt with this one, despite the missing battery, because its skin was in pretty good shape. I’ve seen some which are in a really bad shape, but this one only had just a few minor tears which should be easy to patch up with a bit of careful gluing. I’m hoping that the better the condition of the skin, the more likely it spent most of its life in the box not being used.
Besides the job patching it up, I’ll also need to lubricate the skin to prevent it from getting any worse. From what I’ve read, this basic maintenance is easy enough to carry out – and I’ll provide more info on how I do it in my next post on the PLEO. I also need to name the little guy – any good suggestions, please pop them in the comments.
My plan is to turn this into a mini-series, hopefully creating a useful resource for others looking to pick up an old PLEO, documenting each step along the way as I attempt to bring mine back to life. So, make sure to come back for updates over the coming weeks and months as I (hopefully) get this little robot back up and running.