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Friday, February 09, 2007

Plen the Desktop Robot: As Fun As It Gets


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Tobor the Great and BillyDo you remember your first robot? What was it? Tobor? Robbie? Gigantor the Space Age Robot? One of Superman's robot doubles stashed in the Fortress of Solitude?

I admit it, I love robots. They appeal to the inner geek side of me that makes me dig into the code side of being a blogger. This started well before Star Trek (age 9). Robot fever has been with me since I was 3 or 4.

My fascination with robots probably started with a movie robot called Tobor, a space robot I first saw in a 1954 movie called Tobor the Great, on Family Classics, a Sunday evening TV show that ran on WGN in the 60's and 70's in Chicago. Family Classics ran "Tobor" regularly, perhaps four times a year or more. I was hooked.

Robots were cool and that was that.

Lost in Space Publicity PhotoOf course Tobor was primitive compared to the Robot on the original Lost in Space TV series. His concern and protection for Will Robinson, about my age at the time, was enough to make him a hero figure to me, albeit not as great as Batman or Superman. After all, who wanted to grow up to be a robot? It was impossible.

Still, you could want a robot to be your friend and protect you from hostile aliens that wanted you to clean your room. Wanting a robot, that was key.

As time went by my robot fever was well fed by my insatiable appetite for books, including the Asimov Robot stories, but any science fiction, any fiction in fact would do back then. In fact, I read just about everything until the local librarian had to grudgingly and carefully let my into the adult section of books. (At that time - to me - adult just meant non-juvenile. I was 8, after all.)

I continued to be intrigued by the idea of having my own robot through these books and all of the other stories in Asimov's and Analog and whatever science fiction I could get my hands on, including comic books. So, Lt. Commander Data was a great android, but hardly my first vision of a mechanical man. By the by, I include Superman's robots in the pantheon of Robotic literature even if no one else seems to do so...

Ever since those early days, I have wanted my own robot. As impressive as the ones on the market have been lately, they have still not been what I wanted, but robots keep getting smarter, cooler and cheaper, so one day I may actually buy one.

Assuming I don't build one first (take that snide engineers out there! I know what you were thinking - I have a pocket protector somewhere and I know how to use it!)

This post started out as an idea that I would show videos of different robots from the Consumer Electronics Show (2007) and other sources - since Robots are cool. That fell by the wayside when I discovered:

Plen Desktop Hobby Robot Icon

I'm sure it has flaws, but Systec' Akazawa's Plen the Desktop Robotappears to be the iRobot of Japanese Robots. For more detailed specs see the Akazawa home page and their media public site.

Plen Holding Mini Soccer BallPlen Rides A SkateboardPlen Goes Roller Skating

Plen's Bluetooth Wireless Phone RemoteI will show you some other robots in a post sometime soon, but as you will see, I was knocked out and amused by Plen's roller skating and skateboarding antics, which were controlled as far as I could tell, in real time.

Plen is 1.5 pounds of Bluetooth enabled robot that stands a proud 8.9764 inches tall. Plen can walk, bend, stand, bounce back from all sorts of falling problems, pick things up, and well, I don't want to steal from the video surprises below.

Plen SkatingPlen both charming and is Plen-ty of fun, that is for sure. To say that I was most impressed is putting it lightly. Billed as a desktop Robot he is just that. Though I cannot imagine anyone getting much work done the first few days Plen is in the office. All he needs now is a karaoke speaker to be the perfect mix of party entertainment. Imagine Plen on top of your table, your voice coming out of his speaker as he does Sinatra like moves.

Well, that's my Plen, anyway. But he has no speaker now. So that will have to wait, but with Bluetooth you could stand him on your speakers and who would know who was singing? I can't wait for the first YouTube video of Plen Singing Karaoke style! LOL

If you visit the Plen PR website, which I recommend, despite the jaunty techno tune, be sure to check out the media link to Japan's Robot Life Magazine. It may be mostly in Japanese (Kanji script), but the photos tell you a lot about where the Japanese robot fad is headed, and so us.

So among robots, I plen to show you Plen first. I picked up a series of videos from around the web. In this first one there is nothing wrong with your sound, this one has no background sound, that's because it was uploaded to YouTube from the Plen website which has a bouncy little techno tune always going in the background. That is, unless there is something wrong with my sound...

This one explains a little about how the Plen robot works. It has no internal Gyros! That's a good thing, it keeps costs down.

Soccer anyone?

Jackass! The Plen Edition: The Robot Plen You See is a Specially Trained Stunt Plen...
Attempting these stunts at home may void your warranty!

Plen's Housework and Playtime Goes According to er, Plen...

Now, if only he can be made strong enough to move a can of beer from the fridge to the living room. There's plen-ty of time for that though.

Well, that's enough to give me a yen for the Plen, but I am afraid its going to take quite a lot of Yen to get a Plen, that is, 262,500 Yen (at current exchange rates that comes out to a hefty $2,168), assuming you can even get it shipped into the U.S. (for the approximate daily exchange rate type in Google "convert 262,500 yen to dollars".)

But if you'd like to try to pre-order one and have the cash, to get the order form, at the Plen Store. The link for the translated page did not work but you can try submitting it to Babel Fish via the link on the sidebar, but basically they are asking for Name, company, address, email, etc. Uncheck the box if you don't want email from them in Japanese.

Be forewarned, the initial Plen production run was only 50 and a good deal of Japan is in line ahead of you! "You may want to do something else while you wait, like..."

While the Plen has no sensors and does not seem to be in itself programmable it still has many pluses. The Plen's is bluetooth capacity enables means that you can run it through a cell phone or a notebook. Its size makes it truly a desktop robot so it is not so big that you can't bring it to work to pass notes under cubicle walls (presuming that the inner walls don't go to the floor), and you may be able to program it to do all sorts of fun things while you are away from your desk. Or in it. Hey, keep that spy cam out of its paws! That's one sure way to wind up in the plen-itentiary!

And if you haven't noticed by now you must be reading in another language, I love the Plen's puntential. Rolling on the floor gagging out loud as you may be. (ROTFGOL?)

Hope you enjoyed this and Plen to come back soon. Fewer puns. Promise! Feedback please.

Top 26 Japanese Robots - Plen Up to Number 7Plen, which is a relatively new robot with only 50 in production so far, has climbed to Number 7 of 26 in Japan's Robot Life Online 2006 - 2007 Reader Robot Awards. How high it will go once in mass production is uncertain, but like most electronic items, its price will likely fall as time passes, enhancing its popularity and use.

Lost in Space publicity still is from the The Bob May website.
Bob played the Robot on Lost in Space and is still kicking! Visit his website, there is lots to see!

Peter, Chief Editor and Spell Wrecker
The Peter Files Blog of Comedy, Satire and Commentary


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