July 10, 2012 — -- Fifteen years ago, a little furry toy became all the rage. Toys "R" Us couldn't restock its shelves quickly enough. When kids got it home and out of the box the little thing wobbled around with a weird electronic voice. Yes, if you were a parent or child in the '90s you know we're talking about the Furby.
Hasbro, the maker of the toy, now believes Furby is ready for the 21st century and, as you might guess, has redesigned it with some high-tech traits.
"It was a confluence of technology that made us want to bring the Furby back," Kenny Davis, marketing director for Hasbro, told ABC News. "The original Furby was more than an anamatronic toy; it was the first toy that appeared to have a brain. We have been thinking about the ways to give Furby a real personality."
Technology inside the new Furby, which will be covered in a series of different colored furs, will work together to give it an even bigger personality than it had years ago.
The new Furby is packed with parts you might associate with your smartphone: LEDs, an accelerometer and sensors. It's through its LED eyes that the new fuzzy creature is able to express most of its emotion. Within the digital eyes appear graphics that show the Furby's true feelings; tickle it and hearts will appear, feed it a hot pepper and you will see fire in its eyes. And, of course, like the original, it can close its eyes when its time to go to sleep. (Yes, that's still the most important feature for parents!)
The new Furby is also more in touch with its feelings than ever before, thanks to sensors on its stomach, head, and back and an acceromerter inside. Flip the toy upside down or shake it and it will babble and move its eyes appropriately. Tickle its back, stomach, or head and it will laugh.
But there's more inside Furby that helps it develop a personality. "We did a lot to make sure Furby learned and grew too. It starts out sweet and naïve, but it can develop more richly than the first one did," Davis said.
Another way the Furby grows is by learning English. Furby, as you might remember, speaks in its own native tongue, called Furbish. Furby still speaks Furbish, but can learn English words along the way. And it's now much easier for you to know what Furby is saying if you use the Furby iPad app.
ABC News got a look at an early version of the app and it successfully translated Furbish to English. The app, which will be available for the iPhone and iPad when Furby hits shelves in September, communicates with the toy through a high frequency audio signal. The iPad app picks up the tone, which we humans cannot hear.
The app also allows you to feed Furby. Select the food icon and you can flick different digital foods -- chicken, sushi, a mini-hot dog -- into Furby's mouth. Our test Furby was also responsive to our tickles and woke up when we shook it.
But like the original Furby, the new Furby lacks an on/off switch. What could be a parental nightmare. The Furby only turns off when it goes to sleep or when it is left unattended. There's no volume switch to turn down Furby's high-pitched voice.
And that's intentional, says Hasbro. "Part of that is figuring out what your Furby needs and what to do about it," Davis said.
Hasbro says Furby helps teach children responsibility. But there's a higher price to be paid for that. The new Furby will cost $60 (batteries not included) when it goes on sale in September; almost double the price of the original $35 Furby.
The price, Hasbro says, goes to pay for all that technology. "We decided if we wanted to successfully make a toy where a kid wants to form a relationship with it, this is the tech we need," Davis said. "People are looking at $60 video games; we think people will play with Furby for longer than some of those video games."
We'll see if the new Furby will be able to delight children the way the original did. Sadly, children of the '90s won't be as amused as they once were. And that's not just because the Furby grew up. They did.