Print 11 comment(s) - last by Andrew Campbel.. on Oct 15 at 11:11 AM

The door is open.   (Source: Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Keynote speaker Mark Dery.  (Source: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Kyle Machulis at work showing us the future.   (Source: Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Novint Faclon 3d force feedback controller.
Eclectic group explores how adult entertainment and technology affect each other

Sometimes you just don’t know what to expect.  I spent 30 minutes wandering around the one square block where Google Maps said I’d find my conference.  Things were looking grim.  In a dank alley, out of the scum and litter stood out a shock of red hair and a suspiciously well maintained, electronically secured door.

 After pressing the red button and identifying myself, I passed from the light into the sexy darkness of’s Porn Palace, host site of Arse Elektronika, “A conference about pr0nnovation.”  

The event was held last weekend in San Francisco, California, and brought together engineers, historians, adult-entertainment stars (at least some robotic ones), philosophers, sex-toy hackers and the “hairy-palmed hangers-on” mentioned by cultural critic Mark Dery, who I believe was quoting his long lost twin Steven Colbert.  

One of the more rousing presentations was given by Linden Labs engineer Kyle Machulis.  His presentation was entitled “Getting The Message Across: Hardware and Software Interfaces for Sexual Interaction.”  It was a fast paced and graphic tour of the recent history, forms, and future of advanced interactive personal products.  

No longer are these toys’ actions subject solely to their operator’s manipulations.  Many posses multiple motors and control systems that allow them to respond to digital input.  Machulis categorized their interfaces into three classes: audio, synchronization, and something called “teledildonics.”  

The audio class of products respond to sounds and digital input such as mp3 tracks.  Traditionally these are dependent on low pass filters and tend to focus on bass beats, working better with techno than rock and roll.  Newer products will incorporate high pass filters to buzz along to your favorite melodies as well.  

The synchronization interface maps actions in a movie or game to motors in a personal device.  One product came with software to allow users to map its functions to body parts of actors in adult films.  In an act of what he refers to as “recontextualization,” people have adapted force feedback controlers to synchronize video game play with erotic experiences. 

The classic example of this is the Rez Trance Vibrator, an external rumble pack intended to be placed in a shirt pocket.  Game players quickly found the vibrators in their laps and the rest is as they say is history.  

Machulis uses physical-digital synchronization for applications besides sexual stimulation.  His website features an excellent video illustrating synchronization’s potential as a tool for creating adaptive environments.  It is a demonstration of adaptive lighting using  HandVu, an open-source gesture tracking program.  In an e-mail interview he explained that the idea is to create a responsive lighting system.  It will illuminate the part of the desk the user is focused on and fade when attention returns to the monitor to avoid washout.

It is not a far cry from this application to control physical objects in a remote location through intuitive gestures.  This is the cutting edge of teledildonics, the field of remote human controlled pleasure toys.  These products are manipulated by an on-line operator using a number of interface types.  A hilarious example of an old controller interface involved a cartoon spaceship cockpit with dials and joysticks to be controlled by mouse.  It was found that using the mouse was awkward and difficult to produce the desired effect.  The more organic and sweeping gestures offered by a tablet were much more effective.  

Remote controlled force feedback systems have already made the bridge to more widespread applications.  When I asked Machulis about this he mentioned the Novint Falcon, a game controller that “lets you control a game in three dimensions, and also lets you feel high-fidelity three-dimensional force feedback.”  The control is a ball mounted by robotic arms to a base.  It can be moved in three dimensions and provides force feedback by motors that are updated 1,000 times per second.  

If the success of the NintendoWii is any indication, there is great demand for intuitive controllers.  Desires like this are rooted in human nature and are discovered in many different ways, one of them being sexual exploration. 

As Machulis put it, “if we build something computer based that a mainstream, non-tech-savvy user is comfortable enough to have an intimate experience with, we can take what we learn from that and apply it to other daunting interfaces in order to make them easier to use.” 

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By rdeegvainl on 10/12/2007 2:34:47 PM , Rating: 2
Is everyone afraid to post what they think about this? Is it that embarrassing? Well I think it's kinda cool, being married I'd never be allowed to get one, or need one. But hey, I'm willing to bet there would be a market.

By gramboh on 10/12/2007 3:43:01 PM , Rating: 2
Society seems to be afraid of natural sexuality (in North America anyway). I've never really understood the basis for this, other than irrational religious beliefs, I have a basis for this, I'm a Roman Catholic, although now non-practicing. I think the problem (with this specific religion) is that the view of sexuality as a gift from God which is to be used for certain purposes only, is a contradiction of our human nature, which causes major problems. Violence is fine though!

By Michael Hoffman on 10/12/2007 3:56:37 PM , Rating: 1
gramboh, a few of the presenters and attendees during Arse Elektronika had pretty strong opinions on religion and politics, but Andrew (rightfully) decided to leave that out of his blog.

By Oregonian2 on 10/12/2007 6:56:47 PM , Rating: 2
A history of the world through pornography, a British TV series documentary (not BBC) that I got from Netflix says something about the prude'ness of society only started a couple hundred years ago with one of the British Queens (I forget which one, sorry!). Seems that before that what would be called porn now would be "ordinary", like what one might have on one's coffee cup bought at the local supermarket. This was mega-bad for archaeologist types because they couldn't say what they found. Not acceptable. Etc. :-) Might explain the massive amount of nudes in the old classic paintings and statues. Series is on two DVDs each containing three episodes.

By FS on 10/12/2007 7:59:28 PM , Rating: 3
I guess it was Queen Victoria and the time period is known as the "Victorian Era".

By Schadenfroh on 10/12/2007 9:58:16 PM , Rating: 2
"Violence is fine though!"
Tell that to Jack Thompson.

That forcefeedback controller looks hella scary
By VoodooChicken on 10/12/2007 4:16:39 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not even sure what it's supposed to "interface" with, maybe unisex?

One benefit I see is enhancing webcam sessions when you and your spouse are away from each other. Enter fingerbanging across America!

By noirsoft on 10/12/2007 7:32:21 PM , Rating: 2
I assume you mean the Novint Falcon?

It's not designed as a sexual device. It's designed to move objects in 3d space for modeling (the creation of 3d models, not posing for photography) and other applications. It provides active force feedback so that the user is given some sensory indication of collision other than trying to see if two virtual objects interpenetrate (no innuendo intended)

I've seen it (or eerily similar devices) at VR conferences and SIGGRAPH. I believe it was included as an example of a state-of-the-art 3d input device, and not as something marked for teledildonics (I do enjoy using that word)

By Andrew Campbell on 10/14/2007 2:05:55 AM , Rating: 2
For more detailed information about the Novint Falcon you can check out our own editor and chief's thoughts:

Separated at birth
By kyleb2112 on 10/13/2007 2:07:00 AM , Rating: 3
Mark Dery's a dead ringer for Hank Azaria:

Probably gets hounded to do Simpsons voices wherever he goes.

Love is in the Air
By Andrew Campbell on 10/15/2007 11:11:15 AM , Rating: 2
There's been more talk of sex and technology. David Levy, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maastricht, Netherlands, wrote his thesis on the possibility of humans falling in love with and even marrying robots. Levy thinks this may occur by 2050 in the state of Massachusetts.

The research paper, "Intimate Relations with Artificial Partners" has received a surprising amount of media coverage this weekend:

"Folks that want porn can buy an Android phone." -- Steve Jobs

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