Furby, Then and Now

by Gene Turnbow

Furby is back and just as demonically possessed and hyperkinetic as ever.

Furby is back and just as demonically possessed and hyperkinetic as ever.

I was both fascinated and repelled when I heard the news – Furby, the strange little bunny-owl hybrid, is back.

Furby, in its original 1998 incarnation, was a noisy, happy sounding little child’s friend that spoke “Furbish” and could gradually learn English and interact with people.  It could look around, and vibrate a bit on the table, and open and close it’s mouth – it knew when it had been knocked over or turned upside down, and you could “feed” it with a special spoon when it got hungry.

Now, after a twelve year hiatus, Furby is fit and rested, and ready to take over your children’s every waking moment once more.  And this time, it will set you back $60, double what it cost in 1998 – and it does not happen to feature an off switch.  The original’s eyes were mechanical, and its eyes, beak and ears were all hooked up to a single motor through a clever linkage.  It also made it a little noisy, but that it did what it did was miracle enough. The new one features LCD eyes which give it a much broader range of expression, and the on-board programming is much more sophisticated.

The new one, like the old one, pretty much never shuts up unless you leave it alone for a while,.  The original one made pathetic mewling noises until it fell asleep, and even then it occasionally snored.  Children loved the thing, parents obviously hated it for the most part, and hackers skinned them alive and took them apart to see what they could make them do.  There was an entire internet subculture centered around rebuilding them to do different things.

Oh, that apocryphal story about Furby being banned from the Pentagon as a security risk? All true. “The original was banned from the Pentagon because it was a threat to national security,” said Don Cameron, a senior engineer at Hasbro – presumably because it had a microchip in it, and sensors, and there was no way to tell what else it could do that might not be in the instruction manual.

The original Furby, sans fur.

The original Furby, sans fur. It’s hard to imagine how the toy could be any weirder, but we think this gets the point across nicely.

Hasbro’s new 2012 Furby now comes equipped with six sensors that allow it to develop behaviors, a pair of LCD eyes that give the furry little robot toy more personality and a free app that provides added interactivity and replay value.  These days toys have to be able to talk to your smart phone or your tablet, and this new Furby is no exception.  There’s an iOS app that lets you interact with and feed your strange little pet.

Targeted mainly at kids aged six to 12, the new Furby is powered by four AA batteries that should keep the toy good for 10 hours of continuous play. Hasbro will begin selling the new Furby on Sept. 16 for $60 in six different colors, with a total of 10 by the end of the year.

Resources

  • Furby Autopsy
  • Furby Hacking
  • Furby Anatomy
  • Hacking Newer “2005” Furbies – starting with how to skin one alive
  • Dissecting a Furby

 

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