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Furby attempts a comeback with LCD eyes and iOS app

Reported within the Gadgetwise column in the New York Times this week, Hasbro’s furry, robotic doll called the Furby will hit store shelves during September 2012. The talkative furball come equipped with new features such as backlit LCD eyeballs in addition to integration with an iOS application for the iPad. Beneath the fur of the Furby, Hasbro engineers have also included a variety of touch sensors as well as a microphone to listen for speech or music. When the microphone picks up music, the Furby will actually start dancing which looks somewhat like a penguin waddling to the left and right. The mechanical aspects of the Furby control the beak, blinking eyelids, flapping ears and bending portions of the body. The new Furby also has several personalities that can be selected by the user and the robot can detect the mood of someone’s voice by the tone in their voice.

The iOS application uses high frequency audio to communicate with the small robotic doll. When the user places the iPad in front of the Furby and swipes an object towards the robot, the Furby will interact with the item being swiped. For instance, Hasbro senior project engineer Don Cameron demonstrates swiping food into the Furby’s mouth.

During the demonstration, the Furby makes eating noises and spits back an empty container once it’s done “eating” the meal. The iPad application also includes a collection of translations between the English language and the Furbish language. Children could learn a variety of Furbish pronunciations in order to communication more clearly with the robot.

The Furby was first released during late 1998 and quickly became the hot toy of the shopping season. Similar to other toys in high demand, the $35 Furby were often resold for several hundred dollars to desperate parents seeking the toy for their children. The popularity of the Furby continued to rise during 1999 and Tiger Electronics, the original creators, ended up selling over forty million units before popularity waned during the following year. 

Hasbro attempted to revive the Furby line during 2005 with the Emoto-tronic Furby design. This version of the children’s toy was upgraded to include voice recognition for communication as well as more advanced facial features. However, the Emoto-tronic Furby wasn’t able to communicate with the original Furby line and the Emoto-tronic Furby didn’t come with motion sensors. Hasbro ended up discontinuing the line during 2007.

The new Furby can communicate with other new Furbys, however Hasbro hasn’t indicated if the new robotic doll will communicate with the original Furby or the Emoto-tronic Furby. Parents may get frustrated with the fact that Hasbro didn’t include an OFF switch with the Furby. Unless the Furby is completely isolated from any type of noise or light, the four AA batteries have to be removed from underneath the Furby to silence the robot. At a retail price of $60 per robot, the new Furby is nearly twice the price of the original. Hasbro hasn’t indicated the pricing model for the iOS application. It’s possible that the application will be free, but include in-app purchases for items like new foods for the Furby.

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