Furbies Sing Queen At Fresher’s Faire


The University of Kent has their own hacker space, called  [Maker Society]. Every year the school holds an orientation for new students called the Fresher’s Faire. The [Maker Society] display at this year’s Fresher’s Faire included a group of partially clothed Furbies singing the classic Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. This isn’t our first run in with Bohemian Rhapsody and hacked hardware.

The [Maker Society] started by doing some internet research and reverse engineering a first generation Furby.  The Furby itself is a marvel of cost reduction. All the doll’s functions run from a single motor and a cam system. A limit switch tells the on-board microcontroller when the cam is at the zero position. An optical encoder keeps track of the cam as it moves. The [Society] replaced Furby’s internal microcontroller with an Atmel ATMega328. This allowed them to use the Arduino programming environment.

Many classic Animatronic systems use an audio recording for motion. Typically a stereo recorder would perform double duty. The first track would contain the audio for the animation. A second track would contain audio tones corresponding to movement of each of the degrees of freedom of the doll being animated. Because the two tracks were on the same strip of magnetic tape, the audio and movement would always be in sync. Multitrack tape record and playback systems added even more flexibility to this type of system.

The [Maker Society] used a computerized twist on this classic system for their Furbies. A set of positions and times were stored in Comma Separated Variable (CSV) format. A java program would play the song and read the file, dispatching the movement commands to the Furbies at their appointed times. The result is quite nice. Unfortunately the Faire was so loud that we can’t hear too much of the Furbies’ singing.

10 thoughts on “Furbies Sing Queen At Fresher’s Faire

  1. I walked round this fair several times after I head about this even when I was told where it was, and I did not see this. Lies I say, lies!

    In all seriousness though, this is a very interesting idea to introduce people to the wonderful world of hacking and is well pulled off for tinkersoc for a change. If their new management turns out to be good, I may have to join them again.

    1. First of all I was complementing how well this particular hack was done.

      Secondly, did you ever see them with their old management? A lot of their organised sessions ended in practically nothing happening as they forgot to order the kits that we were supposed to work on, and when they did arrive I was asked to program all the MCUs for them as they could not do so themselves. The sessions were meant to teach members how to solder and they should not have relied on members for success in that regard. The committee was formed of some friendly and very intelligent people and I truly appreciate what tinkersoc do as well as believe that introducing more people to hacking is a great idea – don’t get me wrong – but they were a little disorganized and didn’t pull anything off beyond 2 soldering kits in a whole year.

      Yes, these guys are indeed great at what they do and it’s nice to finally see that. I apologize if you took offense at what was intended to be light hearted joke.


  2. It’s always good to see furbies being put to use imho :) They are definitely a fun bit to mess with and you are instantly gratified with creepiness after skinning them. There is an older set of projects that i was working on that may yet get some new life after snow hits the ground. I’ll try to actually catalog stuff this time and will post when done. Nice job to Tinkersoc and may they continue to tinker in good health :)

      1. Lol Dan. The one robot the wife absolutely hated and made me take back was a robot baby. I couldn’t remember the name off the top off my head but a quick GIS came up with this article and picture of it. http://thesop.org/story/technology/2010/03/11/japanese-baby-robot-spawn-of-the-devil.php
        It went back to the thrift shop post haste lol. She is pretty tolerant of the MIDI junk and t’other robots so I had to agree. I now see them popping up regularly at thrifts/yard sales.leading me to believe others found them severely creepy as well lol. The cat is regularly creeped out by the cat bots around here but then gets jealous and nuzzles on them and me lol.
        My favorite furby is this one I got from a thrift. It came a little “sick” ie its eyes wouldn’t open all the way, something was messed up with voltage regulation overall meaning it slurred its speech and pitch when “talking”, and it would randomly spit out these little r2d2 bit gibberish streams of code consciousness. It just constantly looks stoned or drunk and it will forever stay that way lol. Good times…

  3. :shudder: will I NEVER be free of these demonic things? I went to school with David Hampton’s son. I had to deal with these things for more than a year before the rest of you bastards.

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