Why confine all the personality of your favorite smart home assistant into a cylindrical hub when she can live inside just about any microphone-enabled object you want? Such is the question Amazon Alexa users have been raising for years, and often, to pretty delightful results. Back in 2016, for example, we got to hear Alexa’s voice emanating from the Big Mouth Billy Bass, and now that it’s 2018, we’ll get to hear her coming out of a Furby.
The brainchild of a rather creative engineer, the result of the Furby and Alexa mashup is aptly named “Furlexa.” If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a Furby, allow us to explain. This robotic toy first made its debut in 1998, and looks something like an owl but also a bit like a hamster. It’s a little bit creepy, but so are most toys that meet with incredible success (seriously, I can’t be the only person a bit alarmed by the Tickle Me Elmo). In any case, over 40 million Furbies were sold in the first three years of production, and now, at least one of those Furbies is being repurposed.
“I thought I’d make Furby a little less annoying and give him an upgrade with a real brain. Step aside, Tin Man,” explained Florida-based web developer Zach on his Howchoo page. “I give you: Furlexa,” he announced.
Making Furlexa was rather straightforward — in essence, Zach placed the open source Alexa software onto a Raspberry Pi Zero, and then added a few additional electrical gadgets and gizmos in order to splice the Raspberry Pi into the toy. But why did he choose the Furby?
“Furby is comprised of a few primary components — a microprocessor covered in black resin (to protect Tiger Electronics’ intellectual property), infrared and light sensors, microphone, speaker, and — most impressively — a single motor that uses an elaborate system of gears and cams to drive Furby’s ears, eyes, mouth and rocker,” Zach explained. “By driving the motor at varying speeds and directions and by tracking the cam position, the microprocessor can tell Furby to dance, sing, sleep, or whatever. Pretty cool.” And the only thing to make it cooler would obviously be an Alexa integration.
The entire enterprise cost somewhere in the $50 range, but if you value your time, you may not want to attempt to create Furlexa yourself. Zach said that the whole process took him a year, so unless you’ve some serious time to kill, you may want to just stick with Alexa living in your Echo.