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.” 

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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