Released in 1998 by Tiger Electronics, more than 40 million Furbies were sold in its first three years of life. What made this bizarre animatronic toy so damn popular?
At IEEE Spectrum
, Allison Marsh looks at the engineering behind this pioneering social robot:
The Furby’s source code was written by David Hampton and Wayne Schulz to run on a variation of the 6502 microprocessor, the 8-bit chip that powered the Apple II, Commodore 64, and BBC Micro. The source code is well documented, making it easy to follow regardless of your knowledge of assembly. After a computer programmer posted the source code online last August, one commenter on Hacker News praised it for being “surprisingly sophisticated.”
But reading lines of code doesn’t equal the lived experience. In Hampton and Schulz’s comments on how the Furby’s voice pitch was controlled, for instance, they noted that the maximum range was “very squeeeeeke....”
Fresh out of the box, a Furby speaks its native tongue of Furbish, an invented language that incorporates aspects of Thai, Mandarin, and Hebrew. It might say “Dah-ay-loh u-tye,” when it wakes up, which literally translates as “big light up,” but it is simply saying good morning. The vocabulary of the early Furbys included 42 words. Over time, as children played with their toy, its language ability seemingly evolved. In time, the Furby might start speaking English or 23 other languages, but this function was preprogrammed.
"Coded for Cuteness: How the Furby Conquered Hearts and Minds"
Photo: Mark Richards/Computer History Museum
We all know the game Operation in which the player must conduct surgery on a curious character named Cavity Sam. As the commercial goes, “It takes a very steady hand.” But as sci-tech historian Allison Marsh writes in IEEE Spectrum, Operation evolved from a very different electrified game called Death Valley that was invented in […]
Casio G-Shock and Transformers are releasing a Nemesis Prime action figure that contains a G-Shock wristwatch in its chest. More than meets the eye, the Optimus Prime also transforms into a fancy pedestal for the watch when it’s not on your wrist. The ¥30,000 JPY (US$275) set will only be available in Japan. G-SHOCK DW-5600TF19-SET […]
During the early 20th century, Kutol Products was the world’s biggest manufacturer of wallpaper cleaning products. But once coal heating in homes was replaced with oil, gas, and electricity, dirty wallpaper became less of a problem and Kutol was in trouble. So in 1956, they pivoted. From Smithsonian: Joseph McVicker was trying to turn around […]
This holiday season, give the delivery man a break. Who needs the extra cost and uncertainty of shipping anyway? Here are 10-holiday gifts that cut out the middleman and go straight to the nicest ones on your Christmas list. Winc Wine Delivery Okay, we might be cheating a little with this first one, but a […]
For some folks, writing notes by hand is just plain easier, but having to re-type them later can be a huge bore, not to mention time-sink. The guys from Rocketbook successfully merged the best parts of analog and digital note-taking with their Everlast notebook awhile back. And now, that tech just got a lot more […]
There are fast-paced card games, and some of them even require enough dexterity for a mini-workout (like Skip-Bo or Snap). But there’s nothing quite like the Mokuru® Card Game, which uses an already addictive fidget toy as the centerpiece for a cutthroat game of tabletop challenges. The game is named for the toy that gets […]