'Sophisticated Toy' Takes Over

Pleo, the infantile robotic dinosaur, is a hot item for kids and seniors alike.

March 12, 2008— -- Linda Mckenzie is a devoted mom to her Pleo, a robotic baby dinosaur. It coos, snuggles, and occasionally screams. It can even play tug of war.

It does seem that Pleo, which is made to mimic the behavior of a baby, has a mind of its own.

"If he's happy, he shows it," said McKenzie, who is 60. "If he's sad, he shows it — when you neglect to pet him and he's all by himself and he gets really upset."

McKenzie's 87-year-old father, Milt, says it's not just his daughter who's crazy about this robot. She brings Pleo to his senior community where there are plenty of people who want to "babysit" him.

"You know, a lot of people call it my grandchild," Milt said.

It's easy to think Linda and her family might be crazy about more than just Pleo, but they want to make it clear that they realize Pleo's not real, but the mind can play funny tricks on you.

"I know he's a toy," Linda McKenzie said. "He's a very sophisticated toy, a robot, but I love the little guy."

'A Masterpiece'

"It's almost like a living thing, and you sometimes wonder what the human mind can really do, because this is a masterpiece," Milt said.

Two computer chips, like the ones found in a cell phone, power Pleo. Five sensor pads located under its skin mimic touch. Infrared sensors in its nose detect movement, and it uses a camera to see and a microphone to hear.

The toy's creator added all those innovations to make it more lifelike, but the response has even surprised him.

"We knew it was good, but we didn't know the depth that people can feel empathy towards almost anything," said Caleb Chung, Pleo's creator.

Now PleoWorld has sprung up with almost 8,000 registered owners who blog about the toy, write songs about it, and even send in home videos.

Pleo 'Made Us Believe He Was Alive'

Among the thousands of devoted owners, Robert Oschler is considered Pleo's number one fan. He has one of the first hatchlings.

"Pleo will be the robot that will go down in the history books as the first one that made us believe he was alive," Oschler said.

For a better understanding of what's going on between man and machine, "Nightline" traveled to the University of California at Berkeley, where scientists are conducting the latest research into robot-human relations.

Their new number one test subject: Pleo.

"The machine isn't important," one scientist said. "What's important is the human and what the human believes and the meaning the human gets from the machines."

Better Than a Real Pet?

ABC News conducted a less scientific experiment, taking Pleo to a nearby outdoor mall, where it didn't take long for kids and adults alike to warm up to him. And when it came time to give Pleo back, tears were narrowly averted.

Linda McKenzie certainly understands how quickly one can become attached to Pleo.

"If something happened to him, there would be a lot of tears," she said.

But before getting all choked up, it's important to know that Pleo's not cheap. It costs about $350.

Owners say that's a lot less than a real pet and there's no mess to clean up — just batteries to charge.

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