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.
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.
"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