Sex tech: Wave your arms in the air like you just don’t care

The street finds its own uses for things.
—William Gibson, Burning Chrome

Imagine, if you will, a device you strap onto your lower arm. This device has a bunch of embedded myoelectric sensors that respond to hand movements, and accelerometers that track arm movements. Yoked to these is a Bluetooth transmitter that relays a stream of data about your hand position and arm motion to a computer or smartphone. Sound exciting?

Meet the Myo, a gadget in search of a purpose.

It’s a neat, if pricey, device still in search of a killer app. It comes with a PowerPoint plugin that lets you flip through slides by waving your arm in the air. There’s an interface for Skyrim, though it’s a bit laggy and you can’t play for long before your arm gets tired. There’s also a bit of software that lets you control a small drone with arm gestures, though with less precision than a conventional remote control. It’s very much a “build first, look for a function later” gadget, reminiscent of many tech innovations from the age of the dot-com bubble.

In most industries, the “build it and they will come” approach to project engineering is looked at with less and less favor these days. I am a long-time mad scientist with a particular flair for designing and building all manner of high-tech sex toys, though, so to me “build it and they will come” is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

As soon as I saw a demo of the Myo, my mind instantly went to sex. Controlling a device remotely by gesture and motion? What could possibly be more fitting in a sex toy? (In fairness, I did once, many years ago, build an Internet-controlled sex toy called the Symphony—a name that might perhaps be more appropriate for a device that you can operate by waving your arms. Dance, my puppets! Dance!)

So imagine my surprise when I Tweeted that this would make a cool controller for a sex toy and shortly thereafter one showed up on my doorstep, courtesy of AV Flox over at Slantist.

Electronically, the Myo is a Bluetooth LE radio, a set of myoelectric sensors, a suite of accelerometers, and a low-power processor core running proprietary firmware. Information from the myoelectric sensors is interpreted and translated into a set of posture information. This information is combined with data from the accelerometer and transmitted as a series of gestures and motions.

Conceptually, it looks a bit like this:

The Myo communicates with a laptop or smartphone. The laptop or smartphone interprets the messages from the Myo, then sends appropriate commands to an Arduino with a Bluetooth board connected, instructing it to to run (or stop) a vibrator attached to the motor driver.

The Arduino is a small single-board computer that was designed to do easy experimenting with programmable devices. Think of something like a Raspberry Pi, only far simpler and without an operating system. You can get many additional boards for the Arduino to do all sorts of things—Bluetooth, WiFi, networking, sensors, motor drivers, and other boards exist. The Arduino and its add-on boards are designed to be stacked on top of one another, to make project development easy.

The laptop or smartphone is necessary because of Bluetooth’s design. Bluetooth is a computer-to-peripheral technology. A Bluetooth network uses a master/slave topology, which means a Bluetooth peripheral can’t communicate directly with another Bluetooth peripheral—a “master” device like a laptop or smartphone is needed as an intermediary. When I first started working on a Myo-controlled sex toy, I did the development on a Macbook Pro laptop.

The Hardware

For the first-generation version of the gesture-controlled sex toy, I opted to use an Arduino Uno with a Red Bear Bluetooth shield and one of Kyle Machulis’ Pen15 vibrator controller boards, largely by virtue of the fact that I already happened to have all of them sitting on my workbench.

The Arduino is a small electronics board, roughly the size of an index card, that’s easy to program and capable of talking to all sorts of peripheral hardware. As a controller for a sex toy, it’s a bit large and clunky. Combined with a Bluetooth board and a motor control board, the whole ensemble is about as big as a pack of cigarettes; not exactly discreet. There are several much smaller development boards available, and a later version of this project will probably be about the size of a quarter.

The Arduino, Bluetooth board, and motor controller, all stacked atop one another, look like this:

The blue board on the bottom is the Arduino itself, and contains the processor, power supply, and USB interface for programming. The red board in the middle is the Bluetooth board. The green board on top is the Pen15, an interface board designed specifically to run a sex toy from an Arduino. All together, this stack of boards cost about $40 or so.

The Software

Assembling the stack of components to make a Myo-controlled sex toy was the easy part. Writing the software turned out to be a bit more aggravating.

There are two parts to the software: a program running on the laptop (or smartphone, but for convenience I wrote the first version on my laptop), and a program running on the Arduino. The laptop software needed to pair with the Myo and the Arduino’s Bluetooth card, accept incoming data from the Myo, figure out how to translate those data into sex toy functions, and then send appropriate commands to the Arduino. The software on the Arduino needed to accept those commands and run the vibrator accordingly.

The Myo does a lot of on-board processing to figure out what hand gestures are being done, then sends the gesture data to the computer. It can recognize certain gestures, like making a fist, spreading your fingers apart, and tapping your thumb and forefinger together. It also sends information from the accelerometers, to report motion data.

For the first version, I wanted to keep things simple. I decided to look only at hand gestures, rather than arm motion. Making a fist, I decided, would turn the vibrator off; spreading my fingers would turn it on. (I opted not to control the speed of the vibrator, even though this is fairly straightforward for the Arduino to do, just to keep things simple.) This let me ignore accelerometer data and look only at hand gestures.

The Arduino software was relatively straightforward. The Arduino Bluetooth card comes with a programming library, which, much to my dismay, failed to work right out of the box. That’s surprisingly common in the world of Arduino development, where hardware and software is often designed by small groups of dedicated enthusiasts and may or may not work as expected the first time. An hour’s worth of Googling and some trial and error let me get the Arduino Bluetooth library working, and after that, things were a lot easier. I chose a command that would mean “vibrator on” and another that would mean “vibrator off,” and wrote a simple program that would poll the Bluetooth card looking for those commands and send the appropriate signal to the Pen15 board. All in all, the Arduino side of the equation took an evening to get sorted.

The computer/Myo side was a bit more complicated. The Myo I received was one of the first to ship, and the Myo’s software development kit was a mess when it was first released. (It’s still something of a mess now.) I had considerable difficulty pairing with both the Myo and the Arduino—something that wasn’t helped by the fact that Mac development is usually done in a language called Objective-C, and my experience with Objective-C is limited. It’s mostly like C++, mostly, but there are just enough differences to trip up anyone accustomed to C++.

I finally gave up on accessing the Myo directly and opted for a shortcut. The Myo comes with software that maps Myo gestures onto the keyboard, so I decided to make things even easier by going that route. I mapped an open-hand gesture to the letter ‘a’ on the keyboard and a fist to the letter ‘z,’ and decided to write the software so that it would send a “vibrator on” signal when it saw the letter ‘a’ and send a “vibrator off” signal when it saw the letter ‘z.’ I figured once I had that working, I could get more fancy and sort out accessing the Myo directly later.

It took a good bit of time to get even that part working. The software development kit for the Arduino Bluetooth card is, if anything, in an even more sorry state than the Myo SDK. It took a lot of hair-pulling to get the sample code to work properly, and it tended to break whenever I tried to modify it.

In the end, I did finally get it to work, after a fashion. It was (and still is) quite crude: it recognizes only two Myo gestures, which it translates into “run the vibrator at full speed” and “turn the vibrator off.” The software still has a maddening habit of losing touch with the Arduino occasionally, for no reason I can discern, but it works.

The test

I decided to try out the vibrator with one of my girlfriends who was visiting from the UK, where she lives. We had just finished a whirlwind three-week camping tour of ghost towns through the Pacific Northwest, a journey I am still chronicling.

We spent her last night in Portland at a hotel near the airport, and I thought, hey, this would be an awesome time to take the new toy for a spin, and maybe even get some video of the device in action. She thought that idea sounded splendid.

Unfortunately, the software had other ideas. As often happens, somewhere between being tested on my workbench and being tried in the real world, it decided to quit working. I debugged frantically while she lay naked in bed waiting. Eventually, she fell asleep, and the opportunity was lost.

Later testing would have to wait for a more favorable time. Eventually I was able to get it working again, but the moment to use it with her had passed.

The future

The current prototype gesture-controlled sex toy is quite primitive. Put together, it looks like this:

The hardware is still clunky. I plan to rebuild it using a DF Robot Bluno, which combines the Arduino and Bluetooth on a tiny board roughly the size of a quarter.

This should make it possible to create a discreet, miniaturized sex toy that can be worn in public. I have one of these sitting on my workbench, but haven’t had a chance to play with it.

Eventually, when I’ve made more progress on the strapon the wearer can feel and I have time to return to this project, I plan to refine the software, adding accelerometer control and allowing the vibrator to be controlled more precisely—perhaps by adding patterns to the vibration. (I have visions of doing a PowerPoint presentation at a business function while one of my partners sits in the audience wearing this device, as it responds to the same gestures I’m using to control the PowerPoint slides.)

Finally, I want to compile the control software for my iPhone, so I don’t have to lug around a laptop wherever I might want to use it. I can keep the iPhone in my pocket, where it silently listens to the Myo and sends signals to the sex toy.

The possibilities of remotely operated, Bluetooth-controlled sex toys that respond to wireless sensors, controllers, and other devices has a great deal of potential, especially if you’re a mad engineer like me. There’s rich territory here, just begging to be explored by intrepid adventurers. The early Myo prototypes are, I think, merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I can hardly wait to see what else is possible!

Update #3 on the sex toy you can feel

A while ago, I had an idea on how to create a strapon that the wearer can actually feel, as though it were part of your body. The idea took off, so my partner Eve and I started a company and commissioned an engineering firm to do a design proposal. We recently tested a first-generation prototype, and discovered that not only does the tech work, it works far better than we expected.

Things have gone a bit crazy since then. We’ve received an avalanche of support and interest, and we’ve been talking to folks from all over the place who want to see this device become a reality.

I’m working on a second generation prototype that’s a lot more sophisticated than the first-generation prototype. It’s an interesting bit of engineering, for sure.

Still quite crude, but I’m refining it very rapidly. Right now, the main area I’m concentrating on is sensor design. The second prototype will have much more sophisticated sensors and will actually be usable for fucking (the first prototype wasn’t really suitable for penetration).

We’ve also been doing tons of market research, and the results have helped steer us toward a design that will work well for a lot of people.

If you’re interested in keeping up with this project, we’ve set up a Mailchimp email list. Feel free to add your email to the list! You can find it here:

Sign up for email list: http://eepurl.com/bP8m4f

Feel free to publicize this link to anyone you think might be interested!

We’re hoping to present the second-generation prototype at this year’s Arse Elektronica convention in San Francisco in October. Stay tuned!

Want to keep up with developments? Here’s a handy list of blog posts about it:
First post
Update 1
Update 2
Update 3
Update 4

Update #2 on the sex toy you can feel

A while ago, I had an idea on how to create a strapon that you can actually feel, as though it were part of your body. The idea went crazy, a lot of people expressed overwhelming support, so my partner Eve and I started a company and commissioned an engineering firm to do a design proposal.

In the meantime, I’ve also been working on the idea independently of the engineering firm, so last week I put on my Mad Scientist hat1 and built a simple proof of concept.

Then I went to my friend Emily and said “hey, I have this prototype of a computerized strapon with sensors and a wearable computer and stuff, do you want to help me test it?”

“Sure!” she said, because my friends rock. (I love my life.)

So two days ago, I showed up at her house bearing the crude prototype. “Okay,” I said when we were safely in her bedroom, “this bit goes here, and that bit goes up in front like so…”

There were some design flaws in the first version–the wires leading from the computer to the electrode weren’t quiiiiiite long enough, so she ended up doing this one-legged dance trying to put it on. When it was all powered up and running (which looked quite odd–the sensors mounted to the big purple dildo all have little red lights that come on to show the sensor is working, so the overall effect looked a bit like a prop from a 70s science fiction porn flick), we spent some time adjusting the signal generator and making sure everything was working, and then got to it. I touched the sensors and had her describe what she felt. At one point, as I knelt in front of her stroking her cock, it suddenly struck me exactly what I was doing. “Man,” I said, looking up at her, “this is really obscene.”

“But Franklin,” I hear you ask, “how did it work?

Emily wrote a really good writeup from her perspective on her blog, appropriately titled “Brains, Bunnies and Boners.” Here’s an excerpt:

I stood sporting a sizable electrode-covered, purple erection as this man knelt before me stroking the blinking phallus. Looking dreamily into space, I concentrated on this new sensation and how to communicate it. He asked questions that had nothing to do with arousal and everything to do with programming or nerve density. It crossed my mind briefly that this was a strange situation. Covered in wires, half naked in front of a man I’m not intimately connected to, waxing poetically about the sensation of him passively stimulating my g-spot. Meanwhile he educates me on the corresponding connections between penis and vagina, sensitivity wise. […]

I see him touching the wirey and weird strap on, the sensation of that cock hitting my pubic bone becoming enough to fully trick my mind. The arousal of the plug flitting electrical currents over my internal nerves quickly translates into a thought of, “wow if he keeps doing that I’m going to get a hard on during science and that will be embarrassing.” Except logically I know I already have a hard on. A big purple one that he brought along for me to borrow. My brain has already made the adjustment in the five minutes we’ve been testing this to believing in the new genitals.

So the answer is it works really, really well. Far better than I expected, given how primitive the prototype was. Within minutes, it seemed her brain had internalized the dildo as part of her body; she said that touching the dildo felt like touching her. Which was amazing. I’d expected just to validate that the device could be made to work; I didn’t expect it to work that well.

Eve and I are actively pursuing making this device a reality. We’re currently enrolled in a venture accelerator program in Vancouver and we’re doing market research to validate the market for this device. Interested in being interviewed as part of that market research! Hit me up in email! franklin (at) franklinveaux (dot) com.

1 By which I mean my Mad Engineering hat. Well, technically, my Mad Engineering Magnifiers for Precision Soldering.

Want to keep up with developments? Here’s a handy list of blog posts about it:
First post
Update 1
Update 2
Update 3

Help make the world a sexier place!

I have a friend named Emily Bingham. She’s a rope bottom and a fetish model, and if you’ve read this blog for a while you’ve doubtless seen photos I’ve done of her, like the ones of her tied up in the ruins of an old house I posted here (link is not safe for work, of course).

What you might not know is she’s also a writer, and a damn good one at that. She’s one of the top erotica writers on Amazon (under a pseudonym), and now she’s launching a new project: a true memoir of her experiences and adventures in rope. The book is long, and covers thirty stories, some of them funny, some of them sexy, some of them heartbreaking.

And she needs your help.

Emily is running a crowdfunding campaign to finance the memoir. I’ve been lucky enough to see an early version, and it’s awesome. I highly encourage you to check out her crowdfunding and help support it.

It’s an important book. It covers the ups and downs–sex, erotica, assault, consent–of life in the world of BDSM, and does it unflinchingly and with absolute candor. It’s the kind of book we need if we’re going to help move the BDSM community in the direction of ethics and consent.

And did I mention it’s sexy?

Please, check out the crowdfunding. If it appeals to you, support it.

Tape and plaster, Part II

In Part I of this tale, we wrapped joreth in layers of paper tape with water-soluble glue, for the purpose of creating a cast of her body from which she could make a dressmaker’s dummy.

That same day, we also created a plaster cast of her body, using plaster bandage strips.

The plaster was applied directly over skin, and was considerably messier than the paper tape. The process was a lot of fun, but absolutely in no way, shape, or form safe for work.

Tape and plaster, Part I

A couple weekends ago, Shelly and I headed down to Tampa.

There were a few reasons for this. Shelly just graduated with her undergraduate degree (yay!) and has a few weeks free before going into grad school. It offered an opportunity to spend time with friends before the move. The new Star Trek opened on the IMAX theater in Tampa. And joreth needed to be covered in papier mache and plaster.

Each of these things could easily be a post in its own right, and likely may be. In fact, I am now in possession of a photograph of datan0de, my former archnemisis, which may put to rest once and for all the debate about whether or not capturing a person’s image also captures his soul; if that photograph doesn’t define datan0de quintessential essence, then nothing does.

But I digress.

The plaster and papier mache was actually pragmatic, not kinky. joreth is in the process, you see, of constructing some dress dummies of herself which are suitable for creating tight-fitting clothing, and so we needed to make a cast of her body.

Strictly practical, right? Not salacious at all, honest. Nevertheless, the rest of this entry, with pictures, is probably not safe for work

How to Tie a Rope Harness With Integrated Dildo Harness

Note: This is part 8 of an occasional ongoing "how to" series on BDSM.

Part 1 of the series, How to Tie a Rope Harness Part I, is here.
Part 2 of the series, How to Tie a Frog Tie, is here.
Part 3 of the series, How to Tie a Shinju, is here.
Part 4 of the series, How to Make a Custom Dildo out of Ice, is here.

Part 5 of the series, How to Make a Spikey Decorative Collar, is here.
Part 6 of the series, Theory and Practice of Ginger Figging, is here.
Part 7 of the series, Rape Fantasy and Resistance Play, is here.
Part 8 of the series, How to Tie a Two-Column Weave, is here.

As you can probably figure out, most of these tutorials are really, really not work-safe.

This particular tutorial is so not work-safe that clicking on this link at work is certain to doom you to absolute doom. The images connected with this tutorial show full frontal nudity. Even thinking about clicking on this link at work may result in angering of your company’s IT Morlocks, and nobody wants that! If you’re not at work and nudity doesn’t offend you, clicky the link!

Onward!

How to Tie a Two-Column Weave

Note: This is part 8 of an occasional ongoing "how to" series on BDSM.

Part 1 of the series, How to Tie a Rope Harness Part I, is here.
Part 2 of the series, How to Tie a Frog Tie, is here.
Part 3 of the series, How to Tie a Shinju, is here.
Part 4 of the series, How to Make a Custom Dildo out of Ice, is here.

Part 5 of the series, How to Make a Spikey Decorative Collar, is here.
Part 6 of the series, Theory and Practice of Ginger Figging, is here.
Part 7 of the series, Rape Fantasy and Resistance Play, is here.

As you can probably figure out, most of these tutorials are really, really not work-safe.

This particular tutorial is reasonably work-safe, as long as seeing someone’s arms tied together is okay. There’s no nudity in the images in this tutorial. If it sounds like it’s up your alley, clicky the link!

Onward!

Rape fantasy and resistance play

Note: This is part 7 of an occasional ongoing "how to" series on BDSM.

Part 1 of the series, How to Tie a Rope Harness Part I, is here.
Part 2 of the series, How to Tie a Frog Tie, is here.
Part 3 of the series, How to Tie a Shinju, is here.
Part 4 of the series, How to Make a Custom Dildo out of Ice, is here.

Part 5 of the series, How to Make a Spikey Decorative Collar, is here.
Part 6 of the series, Theory and Practice of Ginger Figging, is here.

As you can probably figure out, most of these tutorials are really, really not work-safe.

This particular tutorial is not in any way work-safe, photographically or in text. It covers a topic that is both very common and yet at the same time triggering for a lot of people: rape fantasy. It covers communication, negotiation, and some starter scenarios, if this is the sort of thing you might like to try. If it sounds like it’s up your alley, clicky the link!

Onward!

BDSM: Theory and Practice of Figging

Note: This is part 6 of an occasional ongoing "how to" series on BDSM.

Part 1 of the series, How to Tie a Rope Harness Part I, is here.
Part 2 of the series, How to Tie a Frog Tie, is here.
Part 3 of the series, How to Tie a Shinju, is here.
Part 4 of the series, How to Make a Custom Dildo out of Ice, is here.

Part 5 of the series, How to Make a Spikey Decorative Collar, is here.

As you can probably figure out, most of these tutorials are really, really not work-safe.

This particular tutorial is work-safe, at least photographically (the text is probably not very work-safe, though!). It describes the practice of figging, which is making a butt plug out of ginger for an interesting warm tingle sensation. It’s particularly good for disciplining those naughty subs for whom an old-fashioned paddling has become humdrum. I recently had an opportunity to explore this with one of my sweeties, to great effect. If it sounds like it’s up your alley, clicky the link!

Show me! Show me!