Robotic recession

The current economic downturn has affected many industries with many companies that previously performed well facing poor results. But has the recession gone as far as to affect the consumer robotics industry?

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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  April 27, 2009

A decreased demand for the robotic toy dinosaur Pleo has resulted in its creator, Ugobe, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the United States, and many have attributed its demise to the current recession.

When launched in 2007 the Pleo robot was quite popular and even in the last twelve months approximately 100,000 units of the Pleo were sold. The toy is widely recognised for its ability to realistically mimic a pet with smooth motion and an ability to respond to human interaction. It can respond to being petted, makes feeding sounds, plays when engaged and can walk around your house. It cost $350 when it was introduced in 2007, and it now retails for $245 on Amazon.com.

It might seem strange then that Ugobe can go bankrupt on the back of the previous popularity of this product. It seems even more strange when considering that robots actually receive quite a bit of good marketing.

Here on ITP.net, for instance, there are often photos in the photo galleries of ‘humanoid robots’. The current Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles television series for example has been shown all over the world over the last two years.

Robots have also been popularised through the media via Star Wars’ R2D2 and WALL-E. And there’s plenty of websites out there dedicated to robots.

Apart from robots being on our TV and movie screens, there are utilitarian robots all around us that we use to clean our homes or help build our cars.

But we live in a world with technological developments coming to the fore everyday. So, with all these developments, would one still want to have a robot? I’m beginning to think that it’s not just the recession that’s putting companies such as Ugobe under but also the fact that robots are becoming boring in comparison to the other tech out there.

Robots such as the Pleo only really perform a few functions, and while this may be fascinating at first, toy robots such as Pleo’s feeding sounds will become repetitive and boring after a while. I think that the demise of the Pleo has a lot more to do with owners packing this toy away in their toy cupboards than the economic recession. R.I.P Pleo.

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