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Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012

TECH_JAPAN

TOYS

The return of Furby; Minnie sleeps over


By JESS MANTELL

Takara-Tomy has a habit of producing or distributing weird and wacky toys that incorporate interesting uses of technology, and two of its most recent releases are no exception.

New Furby

If you were one of the millions of people who owned a Furby back in the late 1990s, then you may be pleased to know that the creepily-adorable speaking and dancing toy is back — new and improved.

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Originally released in 1998, the Furby (both old and new) is an interactive toy that users can chat with. The toy comes out of the box speaking only Furbish, but it gradually matures and, as its owner plays with it, slowly "learns" English and responds to some simple commands. (There is a Furbish-to-Japanese dictionary available, but Furby will only respond to commands spoken in English or Furbish at the present time.) And while it also reacts to being tickled, the new Furby has evolved for the current generation of kids to include even more amazing capabilities.

The most immediately noticeable upgrade to the new Furby is its eyes. Older models had googly plastic eyes that added simple movements and blinking to Furby's facial expressions. The new Furby, however, has liquid crystal display eyes that allow for a variety of expressions, and they also display emoticons. Not so apparent until you start playing with the Furby are the many sensors embedded within it, allowing Furby to react not only to sound and to touch, but also to vibration and to orientation. To top it all off, there's an iPhone app to take the interactive experience even further. While old school Furbies came with a printed dictionary, the app features a dictionary and translator that uses sound recognition technology for instant communication. The app also takes feeding Furby further than simply jamming your finger in its mouth. You can now make customized digital pizzas, sandwiches and other treats within the app. You can then feed them to your little pet by pointing the device at its face and with your finger slide the meal on the screen and "launch" it at a hungry Furby (think of a ninja-star flinging action). Furby's sensors recognize the app and your actions, and once a treat is virtually flung, he'll start munching away. Each Furby develops a unique personality, so some may be fussier eaters than others.

This version has evolved to be slightly larger than older versions and stands 16.5 cm tall. The Hasbro toy comes in 10 different colors, runs on four AA batteries and is distributed in Japan by Takara Tomy for ¥7,140.

Hug & Dream Minnie Mouse doll

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While Furby is aimed at kids 3 and up, the Hug & Dream Minnie Mouse doll is an interactive plush toy geared towards young adults who have difficulty falling asleep. Hug & Dream Minnie was created by Takara Tomy in collaboration with Professor Ikuo Honma, a cognitive and respiratory specialist from Showa University School of Medicine. When switched on, Minnie's body expands and contracts rhythmically every five seconds, mimicking the natural human breathing pattern when in a relaxed state. The design is based on research that shows that we tend to synchronize our breathing with those near us and that this pattern of breathing will induce relaxation and sleep. The doll comes with relaxing music settings and is also equipped with a timer that can be set to turn the doll off after a certain amount of time. It's a great (if not slightly creepy) concept that could help thousands sleep better, but I can't help thinking that if it simply resembled a generic teddy-bear or even a plain pillow, they could have attracted a lot more customers. Hug & Dream Minnie Mouse was released earlier this month and is retailing for ¥5,229.

Follow Jess Mantell's tweets about design and technology on Twitter @jessmantell


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