Newton, MA--They're back. Not so long ago button-eyed teddies, worn books, and LPs led the market for holiday gifts. As electronic capabilities have grown through the years, variations of these classic gifts have come...and gone...only to return in another form. Now, they're back again. Some of the hot products that may find their way to your holiday gathering this year include a stuffed animal that communicates with anyone and everything that's around, a web walkman, and an electronic book/library.
Talk to teddies. Need an office mascot? How about a stuffed pet that talks back and communicates with other pets of its species and you? Meet Furby, one of the first interactive animatronic pets from Tiger Electronics Ltd. (Chicago, IL).
Furby interacts with the environment through signals from six sensors that provide sight, touch, hearing, and physical orientation. Front- and rear-touch sensors respond to tickling and petting. Tilt sensors detect when Furby is upside down or being moved. A microphone triggers reactions to sounds and music, and a light sensor signals when there is a change in the environment.
Just as in real life, some sensations take priority. For instance, if you turn Furby upside down and pet it, Furby's fear of "hanging" in the air dominates his happiness at being petted. And, if a Furby gets scared or excited, its eyes pop open and ears shoot up.
How does this crazy pet think? Furby's silicon "brain" is based on a low-cost variant of the chip that powered the original Apple II. Using its brain, Furby communicates with other Furbys by exchanging giggles, gags, and sneezes.
A vocabulary of almost 200 Furbish (Furby's native tongue) and English words lets Furby form more than 800 phrases.
Dave Hampton, a freelance electronics engineer, and Caleb Chung, owner of Giving Toys Inc. (Boise, ID) who specializes in mechanical animation, teamed up to develop a pet that would outdo the logic of other interactive toys.
"We had to swim upstream to understand the humanpet relationship," says Chung. "We understood that we could never outdo a child's imagination, so we looked to design a toy that would allow a child to project life into the toy. We gave Furby all the senses and reactions of a real pet." The challenge: Tiger wanted them to develop the mechanics and aesthetics in 12 weeks, and have looks-like works-like prototypes ready for the NY toy fair.
Once Chung finished the mechanics, Christi Chung created Furby's aesthetics. "There was a huge push to get the mechanics done on time so the electronics could be developed and integrated within Tiger's time frame." To do this, Chung adopted 3D CAD/CAM design and prototyping techniques.
Chung turned to SolidWorks. "I know many design firms and the buzz was that SolidWorks is easy to use--it has an intuitive interface and as a new user familiar with 3D you can pick it up in a week or so."
SolidWorks recommended that Chung work with Express CAD, a design company in Huntington Beach, CA, that uses and teaches their software. He flew there and spent the next two weeks working with design engineers Preston Hagman and Alan Junor to design Furby on the software.
Chung and Hampton collaborated on board size, sensor placement, and other electrical dimensions to incorporate them into the 3D design. "We changed the board size and position and the motor many times, and with the help of Express CAD and SolidWorks incorporated these changes on the fly," says Chung.
"As a novice computer graphics person who does some 3D modeling, but no 3D design engineering, Express CAD helped me develop my ideas into precise and replicable engineering data." Because SolidWorks is a native Windows application, Chung was able to show files and transfer information easily over the Internet.
Once the 3D modeling was complete, the data was sent to Virtual Design & Machine (VDM; Boise, ID) for CNC machining. Other SLA and SLS houses built component prototypes. As parts were completed and assembled, Hampton incorporated hardware and software.
"Classically, innovative technology has found its home in consumer products like PDAs and cell phones. It's rare to find a synthesis of electronic, mechanical, and aesthetic design that comes together in a toy product," says Chung. "Furby is the beginning of a new paradigm of how products are used and played with. This autonomous pet thinks on its own. That's what's really dynamic about this new generation of toys--when you're gone they're still thinking."
Move to the music. Walkmans, CD players, Mini Discs, and now--MP3 music players. The Rio PMP300 portable music player from Diamond Multimedia (San Jose, CA) puts web entertainment such as music, books, news, and broadcasts in your pocket. Download music and voice-based audio content from the Web using a PC modem, or from a music CD loaded into the PC's CD-ROM drive, onto the Rio PMP300
This 3 1/2 X 2 1/2 X 5/8-inch unit weighs 2.4 oz and operates off a single 1.5V AA battery for 12 hours of continuous playback. The PMP300 solid-state device has no moving parts and features Diamond's built-in flash memory cards. This way, if you want to take your music mix to the streets for a jog you won't have to worry about skipping a beat. The PMP300 includes 32 Mbytes of on-board flash memory for up to 60 min of digital-quality music playback and up to 16 hours of voice-quality audio playback.
The unit also features high-quality sound-effect options such as jazz, classical, and rock, and a diverse playback mode. Removable, add-on Rio flash-memory storage cards in half- ($49.95) and one-hour ($99.95) configurations are also available.
The Rio PMP300 comes with headphones, a 15-pin cable, a parallel port adapter, and a 1.5V AA battery. And, to help start your music collection, the PMP also features MusicMatch and Xing Technology's JukeBox MP3 Software for CD conversion and archiving, and CDs from MP3.com and GoodNoise containing more than 100 free MP3 songs.
Experience a new read. Your own personal library in one "book." The Rocket eBook from NuvoMedia Inc. (Palo Alto, CA) could herald a new dimension of reading, publishing, distribution, and purchasing over the World Wide Web.
This 22-oz handheld "book" has a 4,000-page capacity (about 10 novels, or five of Stephen King's). Sharp Corp.'s readable LCD technology is incorporated into its screen for easy reading in all lighting situations, with the help of a white backlight. The book's battery lasts anywhere from 17 to 23 hours, depending on how long the backlight is used, and fully recharges in 90 min.
You can purchase books and download them from participating websites by connecting the book to your PC. Rocket Librarian Software stores purchased titles on your PC so you can maintain a permanent library.
Automatic page turning, highlighting, annotating, sorting, searching, and bookmarking are all possible through a few button controls. Users can also orient the screen and select the type size.
The Rocket eBook also offers a print capability. And, you can find information on the literature through author, editor, and industry expert annotations with the text. If you want to research a topic you are reading about, live linking provides access to related sources.
Check out some of these web sites for your last-minute holiday shopping.
For extraordinary electronics go to Sharper Image's web site at www.sharperimage.com.
Bid on distinctive items or pay less for that technology gadget, visit Ebay at www.ebay.com.
How about a gift from an inventor? Visit Hammacher Schlemmer's world of gifts at www.hammacher.com.
Don't forget about one this favorite for the newest toys of this holiday season, visit FAO Schwartz at www.FAOSchwartz.com.