Caleb Chung dreams up toys that interact with children. He's the inventor of Furby, a talking (and listening) robotic furball that sold some 50 million units in the late '90s. His newest plaything: Pleo the adorable robot dinosaur.

Why you should listen

Caleb Chung came to toy inventing with the standard background: a career as a mime, comedian and stunt man. A prolific creator of toys from the get-go (he invented some classic McDonald's Happy Meal giveaways), he became a toy-design rockstar in the 1990s with the Furby . Essentially a talking mogwai, the Furby spoke its own language, could communicate with other Furbys, and connected with its owner in a way that sold tens of millions of the dolls. (Versions of the Furby are still in production worldwide -- and are a magnet for tinkerers.)

Retiring to Idaho after this roaring success, Chung started tinkering with another design that uses sophisticated robotics to evoke a deep emotional bond. The Pleo is the result, a supercute baby dinosaur that begins its emotional and intellectual development when you pull it out of the box. After a few deadline problems (centered around the challenge of fitting 37 sensors, 14 motors and 7 microcontrollers inside a realistic dinosaur skin), Chung's company Ugobe (now Pleoworld) shipped Pleo for Christmas 2007.

What others say

"This might just be the sort of toy that raises the bar for what robotics can and should do in a consumer marketplace." — Ethan Zuckerman, My Heart's in Accra

Caleb Chung’s TED talks

Caleb Chung on the TED Blog

Invention

Playing with Pleo: Caleb Chung on TED.com

September 25, 2008

Pleo the robot dinosaur acts like a living pet — exploring, cuddling, playing, reacting and learning. Inventor Caleb Chung (he’s the mind behind the Furby) talks about Pleo and his wild career in toys at EG07, on the week that Pleo shipped to stores for the first time. (Recorded February 2008 in Monterey, California. Duration: […]

Continue reading