Have you ever heard of circuit bending? It’s okay if you haven’t – it’s kind of an obscure term
But essentially, there’s a whole community of people out there that collect electronic children’s toys, dismantle them, mess around with their circuitry – adding switches, knobs, and LED lights – and manipulate them to create bizarre glitched out sounds for their own enjoyment.
Some circuit benders use this technique to create glitched-out lo-fi electronic music while others are satisfied with creating creepy noises and Frankenstein-like plastic creations just for the hell of it.
Well, you might be wondering what this that has to do with Furbies. Well, those wide-eyed impish creatures that made waves back in the 90s haven’t been totally forgotten. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if those owl-like animatronic monstrosities aren’t still the subject of some of your nightmares. If you find them unsettling already, you’re about to be totally freaked out by what UK musician Sam Battle conjured up when he combined his fascination with the fuzzy fellas with his love for circuitry and soldering.
The Furby Organ
Sam Battle runs the youtube channel Look Mum No Computer and for years he had been thinking about the possibility of a Furby organ. Apparently, he wasn’t allowed to have a Furby when he was a kid and this obnoxious project stems from that unresolved resentment. Although, when asked by VICE news why he created the Furby organ he simply replied with ‘Why not’ – which is as fair of an answer to that question as anything else.
He had been collecting the little automatons for years and back in 2018, he decided it was finally time to put his knowledge of circuitry and music to use. By connecting 44 Furbys to small Arduino micro-controllers he was able to sync all of the toys together to a midi controlled keyboard designed to look like an organ.
It took weeks of late nights, lots of caffeine, and solder but after stripping all of the Furbys of their skins and tinkering with their insides he was able to finally realize his long-standing dream.
With a flip of a switch, all of the ominous little beasts come to life and grumble their incoherent gibberish. Each Furby is assigned to a specific note, With a stroke of a key on the keyboard the designated Furby opens up its little beak and chirps out a voweled tone.
The end result may be one of the weirdest and most unnerving unnecessary instruments to ever be crafted. You gotta give Sam points for his creativity though. Over 5 million viewers have seen his creation and in 2019 he developed a smaller portable version of the Furby organ to take on tour. He’d even be invited to give a TED talk because of his Furby fame.
Sam is a lover of all things analog – hence the name of his YouTube channel. Some of his other creations include synths that employ an army of Nintendo Gameboys and Sega Genesis consoles. If you’re into that kind of thing, you should check out his channel.
Speaking of, make sure you subscribe to ours and give this video a like, but don’t go anywhere so fast because we’re about to take a closer look at the fascinating history of the Furby. How did something so hideous become such an international obsession? Why did every kid on the planet want one of these gremlin-like giga-goblins? Wasn’t the Tomagatchi enough? Apparently not…
Way Back In 1998
Some of y’all probably weren’t even born yet back in 1998. So for all of you, this is going to be more of a history lesson than anything. You might not get what life was like before social media and infinite streaming content but it certainly was an entirely different world. You see, back then kids weren’t playing Minecraft and Roblox, cell phones were shaped like candy-bars and all they did was make phone calls and send messages and there was no YouTube – Gasp!
So yeah, in 1998, a new toy came on the scene and took the world by storm. The Furby was the culmination of the hard work and dedication of three individuals that sincerely thought the world would benefit from these mogwai-looking, nonsensical gibberish gerbils. If you’re looking to blame anyone for the Furby then David Hampton, Caleb Chung and Richard C. Levy should be the targets of your ire.
Hampton did an interview with the New York Times in 1998. He explained that he grew up tinkering with electronics in his home state of Michigan. He would help his neighbors by fixing their broken television and radios. When he was just 13, he got his first job at a TV repair shop. It was around this same time that he built a home-made ham radio.
After graduating high school in 1970, he enlisted in the Navy so he could study electronics. He spent 8 years serving his country while learning all about aviation electronics, doing a lot of traveling, and learning several languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, and Thai.
After he was discharged from the military he worked several jobs in silicon valley. It was while working at Mattel that he met Caleb Chung. Eventually, he started his own design and consultation firm and invited Chung to come work with him.
Chung hadn’t received any formal training in electronics but he was incredibly creative and had no fear to think outside of the box He didn’t see any walls or any limitations in his life. If he wanted something bad enough, he was bound to succeed in getting it.
It’s not surprising that the Furby was actually inspired by the Tamagotchi. When Hampton and Chung were at a trade show in New York in 1997, they saw the virtual pet in action for the first time and both agreed that it was a super cool idea. But Hampton had one problem with the virtual pet – you couldn’t pet it.
So Chung and Hampton immediately got to work on ‘improving’ upon its design. They wanted to recreate the virtual pet experience with something that was more tangible. The original name that they came up with their new pettable creation was the ‘Furball’ and it spoke in a hodge-podge of various words and syllables from the languages that Hampton learned while he was in the Navy.
Enter Richard C. Levy
So, after coming up with a prototype of their creation they had to figure out how to license their concept. That’s when Hampton and Chung brought in Richard Levy. His alma mater was Emerson College in Boston but he hadn’t majored in electronics.
Levy had made a name for himself promoting feature films over the course of several decades. In total, he promoted over 30 films for Paramount before starting his own production company.
Although it wasn’t long before he was asked to join the Senior Executive Service where he played a part in designing the WORLDNET satellite network. Despite having a full professional life, in his free time, he enjoyed inventing things like games and toys.
Having a history of marketing and inventing made him a prime candidate to help Hampton and Chung out with their Furby project. Thanks to him, the trio was able to strike a licensing agreement with Tiger Electronics in 1997. Not long after that deal was made, Hasbro acquired Tiger. Hasbro was much more generous with their resources and the development of the Furby quickly was completed.
The Furby launched in October of 1998, just in time for the Christmas shopping season. FAO Schwarz in New York ordered 35,000 of the little fuzzy units and it was off to the races from there. By the end of 1998, almost 2 million Furbies had been sold.
By the end of 1999, 14 million Furbies had been sold and even though they only cost $35 dollars at the store, shortages led to resellers scalping them to desperate consumers for hundreds of dollars.
By the end of the century, over 40 million Furbies had been sold.
The End Of The Furby Era
You can’t really expect any fad to last any longer than a couple of years. Just look at fidget spinners – need I say more?
Well, the Furby followed the same pattern. Hasbro came out with dozens of different varieties of the Furby and that inevitably led to an over-saturated market. In 2005, a new and improved version of the Furby was released but it sold fairly poorly. Consumers had moved on. At that time Webkins were all the rage and Furby’s were collecting dust in closets and secondhand stores.
Once the Furby madness had subsided, people started to take notice of the fact that Furby’s are actually kind of creepy. It was the very thing that made Furby’s so cool that also drove people away. They seemed as if they were alive. They’d talk to you. They were needy. They seemed to be always evolving, thinking…watching.
In 2012, an updated Furby was released that expanded upon the original design. This new Furby could be synced up with a smartphone. The personality changes that this new Furby was capable of were quite extensive and for the first time, owners could translate their furry little friends gibberish into their native tongue. This new model, despite its hefty $54 price tag sold quite well.
In 2013, the scaled-down Furby Party Rocker and expanded Furby Boom was released. The latter had been updated with more content, personalities, pattern designs, and an expanded immersive app experience. The Boom was capable of remembering its name and the name of it’s ‘friends’.
2014 saw the release of the Furblings – baby Furbies that could interact with the Furby Boom.
The most extensive update to the Furby experience came in 2016. Furby Connect has much more expressive eyes and a broader range of movements. Its app connectivity allows users to connect to a whole virtual world to interact with. Furby owners can watch videos, play games, and interact with other Furbies in the Ru4by World. New content is constantly being released and available to download and it’s still available for purchase today. Of course, if you want to get your hands on a Furby Connect you’re going to have to shell out between $60 and $150 depending on the color and model.
The original Furby still has a thriving fanbase. If you’re thinking about getting your hands on a little bit of 90s nostalgia or if you’re considering building your very own Furby Organ they still sell for about 40 bucks on eBay.
We’d love to hear from you. DO you think that Furbies are cute or do you find them to be kind of creepy? Let us know what you think in the comments section below. And before you move on to something else, don’t forget to like this video and subscribe to our channel. Tap the bell icon to turn on notifications so you can keep up with all of our latest videos.