#ToyTech: The story of the owl-shaped robotic toy known as Furby


The 90s were a whirlwind of technological advances that were fundamental to the technology we have today or goofy enough to warrant the use of nostalgia-evoking rose-tinted glasses, like the first Pokemon game and the Sony walkman player. of CDs.

Another thing that should be included in this wacky list is interactive pets, which debuted during this time. These include Tamagotchis, which are digital interactive pets that you can take anywhere.

However, there is another interactive pet that is just as interactive as a Tamagotchi, but can be interacted with physically rather than digitally.

I’m talking about the first Furby toys that took the market by storm in the late 90s.

Here is the story behind this cute and adorable half-bird, half-blob robot baby:

(Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
A general view of a Furby Boom at the 2013 Dream Toys press day at St Mary’s on November 6, 2013 in London, England.

The story behind the Furby

It all started with 13-year-old David Hampton’s love of having fun with electronics, according to Hustle. At his age, he was already fixing broken radios for neighbors and working in a television repair shop, which led him to learn more about electronics. The knowledge he acquired in the television repair shop eventually led to the construction of an amateur radio.

His love for electronics eventually led him to join the Navy right after high school to learn more about the subject, and after eight years of service he worked for several technology companies, including the Mattel toys.

While there, he met Caleb Chung, who liked to think outside the box due to his upbringing.

Unbeknownst to these two men, they will end up working together again, not as employees, but as partners and toymakers.

Both guys saw the first Tamagotchi in action in 1997 at the annual Toy Fair in New York, agreeing that the idea behind the interactive was cool. However, since all interaction with the Tamagotchi was done digitally, it was impossible to touch or pet it.

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This realization eventually became light bulb moment for the two, as they crafted an electronic companion you could stroke in 18 months, initially naming their creation “Furball”.

This interactive pet was unique in that not only could you physically interact with it, but it also spoke to you in a confusing mix of the languages ​​Hampton learned while in the Navy.

With the help of a certain Richard C. Levy, who was both a cinematographer and a toymaker, Hampton and Chung were able to license Furball with Tiger Electronics, a toy company known for its Giga Pets. However, it was quickly acquired by toy giant Hasbro, according to TIMEwhich was a fateful move.

Hasbro shone with Hampton and Chung’s idea and decided to give them the resources they needed to develop the product further.

Thanks to this investment, the first Furbies hit store shelves in 1998. The toy was so successful that 1.8 million of them were sold in 1998 alone. It even followed in the footsteps of Tamagotchi, presenting it at the Toy Fair of the same year.

Furby at the International Toy Fair

(Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)
German singer Lena Meyer-Landrut presents the new Furby’s during the press preview of the international toy fair in Nuremberg, southern Germany, January 29, 2013. Around 2,700 exhibitors present more than 1 million products at the international toy fair which opens from January 29 to February 4, 2013.

The original Furby and its evolution

The original Hasbro Furby released in 1998 was six inches tall and, according to Kiddlethe reason for his popularity was his intelligence.

Hampton programmed the toy with responses to certain stimuli to make it feel “alive”, such as making it scream when it senses light changes, snoring and sneezing. Voice even mentioned that these toys slowly learned to speak English words and phrases to “supplement their pre-programmed ‘Furbish'”.

This particular feature of Furby became controversial because people thought he could record and store conversations, making him a liability to security for intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency.

Luckily, Tiger Electronics owner Roger Shiffman clarified that the toys couldn’t record anything.

The toy eventually faded from public view until 2005 when it was reintroduced with the Emoto-Tronic Furby, which featured a variety of emotions.

The toy has evolved to fit the times over the years, with the latest iteration featuring larger, more colorful LCD eyes, smaller beak, translucent feet, tail and a variety of sensors which make it more realistic than previous models.

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