Monday, May 26, 2008

pleo - part pet, part robot

There is a new toy in town, Pleo brought to you by Ugobe. This company's inventor and co-founder is Caleb Chung, the same guy who co-invented the Furby 1n 1998. Pleo has 14 motors and six processors (Furby had one of each), a nose-mounted camera and 30 sensors. It's sensitive to touch, noise, movement, and even other Pleos.

Pleo is a lovable one week old baby Camarasaurus, a gentle and loving plant eating dinosaur from the late Jurassic Period of our planet’s history. Ugobe used and researched actual Camarasaurus fossil records to help them model Pleo’s appearance and behavior. (source)

The news releases started in 2005, with its much-delayed release happening on December 18, 2007. This robotic pet costs $349, but current owners seem to think its worth it. People are obsessed with these! There are Pleo videos, songs, skits.... owners can even keep a Plog about their robotic pet.

In this March 13th, 2008 Nightline episode, newscasters describe Pleo as "straddl[ing] the line between pet and product."

You can get a tour of the Ugobe labs, in this first webisode in the Ugobe series of videos titled "Behind The Scenes: The Making of Pleo."

You can see the rest of the videos in this 6 video series by visiting the website.

Pleo is based on the three laws of Ugobe life forms.

The life form should...
1. ... feel and convey emotions
2. ... become aware of itself and its environment
3. ... learn and develop over time

Isaac Asimov, who is credited for coining the term robotics in his short story Runaround published in 1942, also had his famous 3 laws of robotics (which Pleo appears to follow):

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

(He later added a Law Zero: A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.)

Besides the amazing advances in robotics that Pleo displays, it is just plain cute. In fact, you could waste hours surfing YouTube for Pleo videos. Here are a few to get you started:

Pleo (without skin) at the Maker's Faire
Pleo making other animal noises
Synchronized Pleos?
Pleo riding on a Roomba

You'll notice that the people obsessed with these toys are adults. In fact, techies everywhere can rejoice in knowing that you can program Pleo using the Pleo PDK as well as a variety of 3rd party tools. "Complex Pleo programming will require a knowledge of the C programming language and a comprehensive understanding of Pawn scripting and the UGOBE Life OS." (source) Umm... that doesn't sound like the skills of your average 4 year old.

Where else would you expect this toy to be developed but California? In Emeryville, CA to be more exact. I drive through the town every morning on my way to work!

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

nokia morph nanotechnology

A student alerted me to a video on YouTube demonstrating the Nokia Morph concept phone.

This phone might be capable of being flexible, having a self-cleaning surface, detecting environmental factors, and harvesting solar energy. It is a two piece design that would use nanotechnology to accomplish these feats.
(image from

One nanometer is a billionth of a meter or about the width of three atoms lined up next to each other. When scientists talk about the nanoscale, they are talking really, really small. Apparently, when everyday materials get down to the nanoscale, they start to do really unusual things.

Scientists hope to one day use nanotechnology to do things like build the Morph, clean up the environment, design drug-carrying nanoparticles for targeted medical treatment, design more effective cleaners, coat implants (like hip replacements) to help the body better accept the foreign material, design food that indicates when it is spoiling, improve car materials... the list goes on. The truth is, no one really knows yet just what nanotechnology may help us develop in the future.

It sounds like science fiction, but some of this technology is already in use. You can check out a list of consumer products that currently use nanotechnology. Antibacterial doorknobs, kodak photopaper, lots of clothing (including pants from L.L. Bean!), even a teddy bear that allegedly resists bacteria, mold, and mites!
Serious nanotechnology runs the gamut from things we can't do yet--so-called “spooky” nanotechnology like build-anything molecular assemblers and bacterium-size supercomputers--to things we are beginning to be able to do like diagnostic nanosensors and superstrong carbon nanotube materials. Then, there are things that are barely nanotechnology at all. Nano-Tex is a company that uses nanoparticles to make stain-resistant fabric found in pants and shirts from Eddie Bauer and others. (These clothes really work, as my potentially disastrous gravy incident last Thanksgiving proved, but they're not the sort of thing that most people mean when they talk about nanotechnology.) - Popular Mechanics

If you want to learn more, there are many kid-friendly sites about nanotechnology, including a free BRAINPOP video on nanotechnology, the Lawrence Hall of Science site, kids introduction to the nanoworld, and

Or you might want to watch this great 30 minute video on nanotechnology basics from UCTV: UC San Diego. These goofy scientists do a good job breaking down a very difficult subject.

The Nokia Morph was featured in the MoMA online exhibition "Design and the Elastic Mind". It has been a project of Nokia Research Center and Cambridge Nanoscience Center.

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

food hacking

What happens when the world's leading hacker chefs skill up on organic chemistry and buy centrifuges for their kitchens? Is your palate ready for "meat glue", "cooking" with liquid nitrogen, and "liquid noodles"? ... [this] looks at the growing role of science in fine dining kitchens with examples from the restaurants that are inventing the exciting field of molecular gastronomy. (Dorkbot)
I am a terrible cook, and usually consume food I can carry in one hand (apple, bagel, rice cake). However, my interest in food preparation was piqued when I read about food hacking! This trend, popularized by scientifically-minded chefs, is based on the principle of "creat[ing] dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of foods." For example, a food hacker might combine chocolate and oysters (!) due to the similarities in their molecular make-up.

Marc Powell, a San Francisco-based hacker chef, is well known in the field of "molecular gastronomy." His website ( established a food hacking wiki in June of 2006, where fellow food hackers can go to share ideas and "Experiments/recipes." Many of the recipes require unusual tools such as a nitrous oxide siphon or a centrifuge. Other recipes require exotic chemicals, like "meat-glue" which can combine chicken and beef into a single slab of meat referred to as "chick-a-beef."

Martin Lersch, from Oslo, Norway, holds a PhD within the field of organometallic chemistry and maintains a blog about molecular gastronomy and the connections between science and cooking.

Here in Chicago, interested parties can experience molecular gastronomy bliss at Moto (google map).
You don't just eat chef Homaro Cantu's food. You gape in disbelief as you are instructed in how to handle his offbeat creations with even more peculiar utensils: The whole thinking is like a three-star science lab. (from one of many reviews of the restaurant)
I experienced the 10 course meal there recently. The meal began with an tasty edible menu nestled on top of a micro-salad. I don't want to give away all the good parts, but let's just say the meal included lasers, liquid nitrogen, and dehydrated macaroni. It was an (albeit pricey) experience I would enthusiastic recommend.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007


What is a theremin, you might ask? This unusual-looking instrument happens to be the only musical instrument you play entirely without touching it. It works with ether waves (like radio wave) and your body affecting its electro-magnetic field.

There are two antennae. The upright antenna manipulates the pitch. Put your hand close, and you hear a high-pitched squeal. Pull your hand farther away, and you hear a lower tone. The horizontal antenna controls the volume. A close hand drops the volume, and pulling your hand away increases the volume.

The theremin was invented in 1919 by Russian physicist Leon Theremin. He came to the United States in the 1920s to promote his invention until he returned to Russia. The instrument almost became extinct, until the 1950s, when Robert Moog helped to revive interest in this electronic oddity.

In recent years, the theremin has even been used in some more mainstream bands. The Beach Boys used a theremin-like instrument in "Good Vibrations," and Led Zeppelin took advantage of its eerie sounds for "Whole Lotta Love." According to a recent New York Sun article, a "new generation is embracing the theremin."

The lead singer of the theremin-based band, The Lothars, posted a pretty sweet video in which he explains the instrument and plays "Video Killed the Radio Star"!

For a more classical sound, see Masami Takeuchi or Lydia Kavina. Or watch an older clip.

Thereminworld has perhaps the most theremin information on the web, though you might visit for all the latest theremin news.

Looking to buy a theremin? You can get a kit and build it yourself. Or if you are looking for a fully assembled model, you might check out the Moog or Kees theremin.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

more iProducts

In an earlier post, I highlighted new iPea. Well, there is apparently no end to the Apple spoofs. is "the top creative competition and photoshop contest site on the web." (as in "a picture is worth a thousand words") Currently, they are sponsoring a contest to create Apple's Next Product. Check out the entries so far!

While you're at it, you can check out my favorite section of the website: chimeras.
Chimera: chi·me·ra [ki-meer-uh, kahy-] –noun, plural -ras.
an organism composed of two or more genetically distinct tissues, as an organism that is partly male and partly female, or an artificially produced individual having tissues of several species.

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Monday, January 1, 2007

the smallest ipod yet

Apple keeps coming out with smaller and more efficient iPods. However, this is the best one yet! Read all about the iPod Pea! (If that isn't enough to amuse you, check out the video for the iPod Flea.) It just doesn't get any more amusing than this.

SNL's attempt was not quite as funny.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

banana bunker

There is a market for everything. Including a protective case for your banana.

Uh oh. Competition. Check out the Banana Guard. It's good to have choices.

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