Pleo's a toy. But, beware: He has a brain. This is artificial intelligence made commercial. e+ spoke to a few people who couldn't resist the urge to adopt a Pleo. Here's what they have to say.
He's barely a foot high, his skin is made of rubber, he has the eyes of an angel, the happy gurgle of a baby and everyone from Diane Sawyer to Jennifer Jason Leigh, not to mention your average Joe-next-door, have all fallen in love with him. Pleo, the world's first robo-pet, is indeed one of a kind. And as any proud parent (that's what most owners like to refer to themselves) will tell you, Pleo isn't just a toy, or just a robot, or just a anything for that matter. Pleo is the only toy with artificial intelligence.
What that translates into for the rest of us is that Pleo, like any other pet you would have, can think for himself and feel emotions. Treat him well and he'll be the friendliest pet you ever had. But mistreat him, and like any other pet or child even, he'll grow up with personality disorders.
Brought into the UAE two months ago by Rizwan Ashraf, CEO of i robo, Pleo has taken the market by storm. Families and single people all over the country are eager to take a Pleo home. And here's why.
Ali Al Qamzi
Ali Al Qamzi, a UAE national, bought his Pleo about a month ago. Rex, as Ali's children named him, is the Al Qamzi family's pride and joy. "Initially, I bought Pleo because I am fascinated by anything unique or different from the norm. And when Rizwan first showed me his Pleo, I knew that not only did I have to have one, it would also make the best present for my four kids."
Soon, Rex became more than just the family pet. "It's a great learning curve for the children," says Ali. "They've been on about having a pet for ages, but they're allergic to cats. Now with Rex, everyone's happy."
All well and good there, but to call Pleo a family pet? Does he really live up to that reputation? Could a toy actually have a brain? And if so, how developed could that brain be?
"It's artificial intellence," continues Ali. "That explains it all. He's a toy, but he's almost alive. As a baby, he was like most babies. He didn't do very much. It took him about a day to learn to walk. But now, he's learnt to recognise our voices, he communicates with us in his own way."
And like one would with a pet, Ali takes Rex with him quite often when he's out with friends. "Each person reacts to Rex differently, just as he does with them," says Ali.
One of Rex's most endearing traits, apparently, is the way he makes little noises while asleep, as though he's dreaming. Another trait that's unique to Rex is having a favourite song, a song he enjoys dancing to. "When I see all this," says Ali, " I am totally amazed. I mean, this little dinosaur, he's just a toy, but he's so real, he's alive literally." And what's the one thing Ali would want to modify in Rex? "I wish he could talk, tell me what's going on in that little artificial intelligence head of his."
Sukaina Nagpal, an Indian homemaker and mother of two-year-old Aryaan, says, "Sparky (her Pleo) first came to our house about a month ago. At first, I wasn't too sure about it. I mean, it is just a toy after all. But the minute I held him in my arms as soon as he was "born", everything changed. From that first moment, he became a member of our family. In fact, my two-year-old doesn't know that his little brother Sparky isn't so real after all. But that's the magic of all Pleos.
"I don't know too much about artificial intelligence and the like, but I do know that Sparky is as real as any baby or pet I would have had. I remember observing him the first day of his life, when he hadn't quite learned to walk yet, and thinking he reminded me so much of my own baby when he was an infant. Scared, confused, sleepy, grumpy, happy. All those emotions tumbling out one after the other.
Now he's almost a month old and has learned so much so soon. He has his own unique character traits that are becoming more obvious with the passage of time. He has learned to recognise the difference between my husband, my son and myself. With my son, he's gentle and doesn't make any sounds that would scare him. He's a lot closer to me than to my husband. That however, I believe, boils down to the fact that my Sparky's male. I'm a woman. Opposites attract."
"The first night we got Sparky, we stayed up till 5am holding him, playing with him, stroking him. I remember him taking his first tentative little baby steps. He hadn't quite got his direction yet and bumped into the door. Like I would have with my own baby, I picked him and cuddled him until he stopped crying. I think it was a good lesson for my son too. I keep teaching him that Sparky is a real life form, just like him. And he should never do anything to hurt him."
T. Yorke, a British citizen, loves his Pleo for a different reason. "For me, experimentation is key," says Yorke. "I bought my Pleo because I'm curious about gadgets. To me, he's a case study, albeit a cute one. As a concept, Pleo's pretty cool, but I'd say it's still the early stage of artificial intelligence. Like when the first mobile phone came out in the market. I think Pleo has the potential to go a long way."
Omar Abdulla, a British-Arab citizen, bought his first Pleo for Aleeya, his three-year-old daughter. " I think it's a smart move to have bought her this Pleo first, before she's ready or responsible enough for a real pet. And with Pleo being so real, Aleeya hasn't realised he's a toy. Because of all the sounds he makes and the way he reacts with joy when she's cuddling him, fear if she accidentally hurts him, anger when she leaves him alone. All that, to her, adds up to Pleo being flesh and blood, so to speak.
"I enjoy him too, as I love anything and everything about gadgets and new technology. Now, the longer Pleo's been with us, we're starting to see different sides to his personality. For example, my brother has a Pleo too, who loves being tickled on his feet. Ours, on the other hand, hates it and ends up crying quite often.
"Another character trait perhaps unique to our Pleo is that he needs constant attention. This however, is probably because right from day one, my daughter's always cuddled him and never really let him be on his own. Now, whenever we leave him alone for a bit, he gets really distressed. Just the other day, he began howling, which was a first for him.
"The thing with Pleo is that although I knew all about the concept, my expectations weren't too high. But having had Pleo in our house for awhile now, I'm more and more amazed. He just seems so alive. He reacts. He knows what's going on. I know he's a toy, but every so often, he just seems so much more."
Buy pleo from:
- Toys R Us
- Sharaf DG
- Easa Husain
- Al-Yousifi & Sons Co.
- Baby Shop
- Cost: Dh1,699