This Furby bend has been prompted by a workshop I’m running with SoundNetwork in Liverpool next week. The demo Furby I’ve previously taken along to these things seems to have come off the worse for wear, so I wanted a bent Furby that’s still within its protective layers. I also wanted to try something a little bit different to the ubiquitous push and toggle switches, so I experimented with conductive thread to see how that changed the experience of affecting through touch.
I’ve simply soldered two wires to the bend points, fed them out of a convenient hole in the back of the plastic shell, made a loop in the ends of them and sewn this loop to the inside of the fur with conductive thread.
After replacing the fur (I didn’t need to detach it fully, just open it up around the base and peel it up over the back so I could open the shell) I then sewed more thread to the points where the wires were attached.
Many thanks to Kit Larks and Lynne Bruning for supplying the raw materials.
Since I started this circuit-bent Furby project, people have been nudging me to do some sort of a performance with it.
I struggle with this idea, I think for two main reasons.
The first is that I’ve never been to a performance that even remotely indicates to me what a circuit-bent Furby gig might be like. What might a circuit-bent Furby gig be like?
The second is that, as Danny started to get close to with his questioning of how I relate to the Furby as I’m messing with its circuits, the interesting thing about this kind of object for me is how people interact with it.
'Furby & Thingamagoop' by Katchooo on Flickr
Fiona asked me to bring the Furby along to her recent birthday party. Brilliant! A chance to see how other people play with it!
It was great to just sit back and watch as different people responded to the thing in different ways. Also good was how people responded when the Furby failed to respond …and the different ways in which frustration, anger and dominance were expressed! This is the stage where I start to find out what it is that I have made. Up until then, it’s just been a learning project as I try and improve my electronics skills. It starts to come alive only once I put it into the hands of other people.
So, the idea of a performance and therefore of an audience is quite an alien one for me. I’m more interested in participants; in audiences of one.
I’m unlikely to part with this one (still needs a name, by the way), but I’d like to know if people would be interested in commissioning their very own circuit-bent Furby?
It looks like Funky Furbies (like the one above, video here) are going on ebay for about £20, so let’s say that after they’ve been circuit-bent and had extra components put in etc etc you’re looking of a starting price of around £50.
Working directly on the circuitboards to find glitches was very difficult, especially since most actions involve, well, action and the Furby kept moving around.
Not a particularly effective solution...
Removing the feet again allows the Furby to stand fairly steadily on the base of the battery compartment without the leg cams reaching the surface it’s on to make the body move. However, this also means you have to down tools and pick the Furby up each time you need to turn him onandoffagain. With all the exposed mechanics and electronics, finding a safe place to pick him up by is a challenge in itself.
The on-off switch doesn’t appear to be directly connected to the battery compartment as in simpler electronic toys I’ve worked with, instead 3 wires come out from the back of the switch and join onto the circuitboard.
snipped wires from on-off switch
I just snipped the yellow, red and green wires about an inch away from the switch (enough to leave me room to solder back onto the wires going into the switch, if needed) and then extended the wires connected to the circuitboard and soldered a SPDT toggle switch onto the other ends.
Extensions to the on-off switch wires
I also wanted to add remote switches to the belly, mouth and back of the Furby. All these plug into the circuitboard and, thanks to the coloured wires, are reasonably easy to identify.
These are actually connections for LEDs (see later) but the principle is the same for the switches
It’s also pretty straightforward to solder a couple of extra wires onto the leads of the plugs where they come out onto the front of the circuitboard. I’m just using some momentary push-to-make switches to trigger the Furby. It’s nice to have a few actions that are not in response to voice commands.
Audio jack, glitch switch and push buttons for belly and back
I also tried to use a push-to-make switch to control the sound glitch, but found I was killing a lot of switches in the process. At first I thought I was over-heating them at the soldering stage and messing up some of the internal contacts, but I eventually noticed (with the help of my multimeter) that it was after a few pushes that the switch stopped working. I thought that the current might be too high for the switches and so added in a 10ohm resistor, but was still getting sketchy results.
Increasing the resistance had the effect of speeding up the sound (not particularly desirable) so rather than increase the resistance I eventually abandoned the push-to-make switches in favour of a chunkier toggle switch (also with 10 ohm resistor).
At one stage I tried a large latching push-to-make switch, but I struggled with this because it was never clear whether it was on or off. If you’re going to go down this route, I suggest maybe using one with an indicator LED…
All-in-all there’s now a significant number of wires coming off the Furby and the solder points are quite delicate – particularly those ones that connect directly to the circuitboard. In order to add some protection against accidental pulls, I tied a piece of nylon cord to some of the plastic structure of the Furby and added a few polymorph figure-of-eights. I then looped each wire through the figure-of-eights before then taking it to the switch box. The nylon is slightly shorter than the length of the wires and tied off inside the switch box so it should hopefully take the brunt of any excess force.
Cord stay to protect wires from being pulled off
The switch box: main on-off switch and audio jack, glitch toggle switch and 3 buttons for belly, mouth and back triggers
I’ve also attached a few LEDs to various points on the circuitboard (again, the solder points on the other side to where plugs attach). These were initially soldered straight onto the board, but have now been added onto wires in series with a 1k ohm resistor.
Initial (temporary) location of LEDs
As I write this, the LEDs have made it to the ends of his ears and mohican spikey thing, but I’m not quite satisfied with the result. More tinkering required – perhaps either to add more LEDs down the length of the ears, or to add some sort of translucent cover.
Basically the two bottom connectors are the signals, and the one coming off the side is the ground.
Here’s a diagram of the wiring and how it connects up to the circuitboard and the speaker:
Diagram showing the wiring arrangement I ended up with for the audio jack
It’s ever so slightly different from what’s described on the oscillateur faq page, since I’m connecting c to b, rather than c to the ground of the speaker. I did try that, but got no sound.
The other thing I’m finding is that I still get sound from the Furby’s speaker when I plug the amp in. This doesn’t happen when the resistor is omitted, but the sound quality isn’t so nice, so I think I’ll put up with that.
I’m still not really convinced I’m doing this right, but I’ve not yet found any other combination of wiring that works. Maybe I’ve got my positive and negative terminals on the speaker mixed up?
If anyone can point me in the direction of a solution then I’d be most grateful, because this is something that’s going to keep coming up and I’d quite like to learn how to do it properly!
I had wrongly identified which were the positive and negative terminals on the speaker. After changing that starting point, the audio jack now works as expected with the following wiring:
Correct (I think!) wiring for the audio jack. Without an amp plugged in, the Furby's internal speaker is used. When the amp is plugged in, the internal speaker cuts out.
Whilst there’s quite a few resourcesavailable online to help out with any planned circuit-bending of a regular furby, I’ve been unsuccessful in my searches for information relating to circuit-bending their larger relative, the Funky Furby.
This is probably one of the reasons why the purple and green critter I picked up at a carboot sale over the summer has been sat on my hack-shelf for so long, without even so much as having had fresh batteries put in it.
It is also the reason why I’m going to document as much of the process here as I can, starting with today’s instalment: de-skinning.
The first task is to remove the feet. This is likely to be the biggest hurdle due to the need for a triangular-shaped screwdriver. If you’ve got that (and a normal, small-sized cross-head screwdriver), then the rest is really quite straightforward.
The inner screw that joins the feet to the main body
After removing the two screws in the base of each foot, you can lift off the fleshy toe bit to reveal a second, black mount. This is where the feet connect to the main body, so you’ll need to remove these too. Once you have removed these (the screws are quite long) put all the foot parts and screws to one side – you’ll need these again later.
Under the feet
Removing the black mounts reveals a panel of plain material (rather than fur) with a small hole in it. If you poke around through this hole, back in the direction towards the battery compartment, you should be able to hook a finger (or maybe a screwdriver) under the black plastic strip that is sewn onto the white cloth along the corner edge where the battery compartment sticks up. Pull hard to undo the clip and free the fabric.
The tabs that hold the fabric in place around the base
The tabs that hold the fabric in place around the base
Some of the tabs on my furby came out ok, but one or two snapped. Your mileage may vary…
After that, it’s a case of gradually peeling the fur up over the top of the furby.
It’s easiest to work up over the back and bring the pelt over the front of the face. There are a few more of those tab things, and a few other places where you need to unhook bits and pieces, but you don’t need to snip any of the stitching or anything around the face plate – the aim is just to clear the fur layer from the back half of the shell and any of the articulated bits coming out from the inside of the shell.
The tips of the ear levers need to be unpopped.
The eyebrow elastic needs unhooking from here
Once you have done this, you can unscrew the two halves of the shell and the fur, still attached by the face plate to the front half, can just stay how it is. The microphone is attached to the front half of the shell – unscrew this so you can remove the furby innards completely.
Furby innards revealed
From here you can reattach the feet to give the little critter some stability and then you can do whatever you’re going to do with the electronics…
Kind of cute...
Circuitboard easily accesible on the side
As I said, I haven’t found any references for bend points, so there’s a high chance the furby won’t make it through the next stage where I noodle around on the circuitboard looking for glitches. I made sure to get some video of him doing his stuff before I went any further:
…after which I did actually Read The Manual and found out that you have to play music at it for it to dance!
I need to rig up some sort of jig or stand to hold the furby off the ground for the next stage – triggering sounds also means triggering movement and that makes it really difficult to work on the circuitboard to try and find the bends.
Hopefully the furby will survive long enough to have something to put in the next of what is planned to be a series of posts documenting the circuitbending process…
Hello, my name's Nikki. I make things happen.
My main area of enquiry is centred around interactions between people and place: often using tools and strategies from areas such as pervasive games and physical computing to set up frameworks for exploration.
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