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Come And Meet Furby

By Andrew Wycherley

What is a Furby?

Furby is a 'robot' electronic pet, perhaps the first truly popular electronic pet and the first introduction for many households to the electronic revolution soon to sweep through toy stores the world over. Frequently credited with far more AI (artificial Intelligence) than they actually possessed, Furbies even caused a ruckus in the intelligence community when the rumour went round that they could repeat what they had heard - the net result being that some intelligence agencies banned them from their offices! Alas, there was no truth in the rumour - the Furby is actually quite a simple toy, certainly by today's standards.

Furby was introduced to an unsuspecting world in late 1998 by its maker Tiger Electronics and went on to be the 'must-have' toy for the next few years, selling over 40 million units in its first three years. The original Furbies were 6 inches tall with a heart shaped infra-red port and light sensor on their face (used to communicate with other Furbies). Out of the box, they were programmed to speak Furbish, but 'learned' to speak English over time. This is another common misconception; they did not actually learn English but rather were pre-programmed to slowly switch to speaking in English. It is believed that this process could be 'hurried along' by lots of interaction with the Furby. There are 4 stages of speaking that the Furby passes through:

Speaking only Furbish
Speaking mostly Furbish with some English
Speaking more English with plenty of Furbish still
Speaking mostly English with some odd Furbish phrases

As such, it follows the stages that a non-native English speaker would go through in learning English. Of course, it might not be English - Furbies were produced able to speak one of 24 different languages as befitting their worldwide market.

The Furby had moving ears, opening and closing eyes and an opening and closing beak, complete with tongue sensor to tell it when it was being fed. There was also a motion sensor on some which could trigger phrases like 'fun' or 'scared' depending on how it was treated. I remember one car journey with a Furby buried under the luggage going 'whee' on every corner. There are a lot of corners on roads in Wales in the UK - which led to fervent wishes being expressed for the one thing the first generation Furby did not have - an off switch.

The Furby could also 'move' - though actually this meant 'lift itself up a bit' with a small ram fitted underneath on the base of the Furby. This enabled it to 'dance' - a Furby could sing too - and there still wasn't an off switch, though a Furby could usually be persuaded to go to sleep.

Other Versions

As well as the original Furby, over time a wide range of Furbies and derivatives were introduced.

Furby Babies were the first derivatives - slightly smaller, they can't dance but end up speaking English faster than their larger relatives.

Furby Friends - special versions or other toys using the same technology were developed, including an E.T. version, Shelby and an Interactive Yoda for the Star Wars fans.

Emotronic Furbies - introduced in 2005, these are slightly larger than the originals, lack motion sensors but have a more 'expressive' face and - hooray - an off switch. The main innovation introduced is that these Furbies have a voice recognition system and can respond to spoken commands.

Emotronic Furby Babies - a smaller baby version using the same technology as the adult Emotronic Furby.

Emotronic Funky Furby - released in 2006, these are enhanced versions of the Emotronic Furby that can dance and even be taught 'dance routines' that they will remember. They tend to be available in a limited range of colours which change over time.

Furby Faults and hacking

Furbies are popular with hackers and circuit modifiers as they can be relatively easily modified with computer control or to take advantage of their advanced voice recognition, speech or sensors.

Furbies can suffer from various faults, including 'sticky beak' (a stuck or loose beak) and 'buzzing eye' - problems with the eyelid motor or gears. Many faults that seem to involve insanity on the part of the Furby can be cured by new batteries, a reset or failing that a restart.

To reset your Furby, use a pointed object (pen, bent paperclip) to press the reset button situated in the little hole adjacent to the battery compartment on the base of the Furby. This may get him talking properly again with no adverse effects.

If this doesn't help, a restart may be required - this is more serious and is a bit of a Furby Lobotomy - they will forget the English they have learned so far, their name and may even change their voice. As such, it can be considered a factory reset. To do this restart, turn them upside down and press their reset button whilst also pressing the tongue switch (inside the beak) down.

Conclusion

Even today, Furbies are fun toys to have and provide an entertaining experience for children - they are more parent friendly too now with their off switch!

Andrew is proprietor of Shop4ElectronicPets - the place to find all the electronic pets you could want including Furby, Cube World, Tamagotchi, Aibo and Robosapien. For more about the Furby, see our electronic pet articles. He has also been step grandparent to a number of Furbies over the years and survived relatively unscathed.

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