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Sex and technology

Several years ago, I designed a gizmo that was intended to allow people to control sex toys through an Internet connection. The idea was that you'd fire up a chat client, the person at the other end of the chat would have one of these things, and that person would plug some sex toys (up to three of them) into the gizmo. While you were chatting, you could switch the various toys on and off.

I actually tried building and selling these things, a project that was something of a flop--in part because of some design shortcomings, and in part because I don't really have the money or resources to do something like this properly. I called the gizmo "Symphony," and lost money on the project.

The Symphony design actually started as a phone-sex gadget; in the original conception, you'd plug the gizmo into your phone jack (remember those?), plug your telephone handset into the gizmo, and talk to someone on the phone. If your partner pressed buttons on the touch-tone phone, he could switch the sex toys plugged into the gizmo on and off.

For that reason, the Symphony works on DTMF--the shrill noises you hear when you push buttons on a phone. Basically, it's nothing more than a DTMF decoder (that recognizes the buttons), a series of bi-stable latches, and three relays. When you push the buttons on the phone, the relays switch on or off, depending on which buttons you push.

In fact, there's a schematic of the Symphony below this cut

The HT9170 is the tone decoder. The 7402s are arranged as three bistable latches. They drive three mechanical 5-volt relays via three VN0605 TTL-level MOSFETs. The VN0605s are tricky to find in small quantities; anyone who wants to build one of these to tinker with might want to replace the VN0605s with a 1K resistor and a 2N2222 switching transistor to drive the relays.

Or replace the transistor/relay pairs with a solid-state relay and be done with it. That's the right way to do it, though the solid-state relays are a bit spendy, which is why I didn't do this when I thought I'd be mass-producing these things.

It occurred to me early on that generating DTMF in a computer is trivial, and that this device could be controlled easily by a computer. And thus, Symphony was born.

The computer version of Symphony has a lot of shortcomings. The biggest of these is that each sex toy has two states: on or off. That's it. No speed control.

Symphony has been a dead project for about five years now. I keep thinking of revisiting it in the form of a much more sophisticated, USB version with speed control and all kinds of other neat stuff. I also have been thinking about publishing more detailed information, including the PCB pattern, sample software, and stuff like that in the "do it yourself sex toy" section of my Symtoys Web site.

A little while ago, I posted a journal entry about creating a sex toy guaranteed not to get the user off. I've seen plans for simple versions of such toys; basically, they're vibrators that switch on and off at random intervals, never running for long enough to cause an orgasm but always running just enough that they can not be ignored. A random-number generator connected to a relay does the trick.

Recently, I've been having some online conversations that have revealed to me a need for an Internet-enabled toy that's designed to torment and tease someone without letting her get off, preferably over the course of extended conversation. And my mind went back to the Symphony project, and...

Okay. So Symphony in its current incarnation isn't a very good sex toy; it's too limited. However, what about adding more "smarts" to the client chat software? What I've been thinking is this: The client software can contain a random number generator, possibly weighted by several variables controlled by the host. So in addition to "on" and "off," the host can put the sex toys connected to Symphony into "torment mode," where they run at random, varying intervals, whose parameters can be adjusted by the host for...err, maximum effect.(I can't simulate speed control by switching the toys on and off very rapidly--essentially, using a square wave as the power source and varying the frequency and duty cycle of the square wave to vary the speed of the motor--because the DTMF tone decoder takes a while to respond. The minimum tone duration is pretty long--about 250 ms--so the practical limitation on the rate at which the toys can be switched is only 3-4 Hz.)

So what you'd get is a chat program that could control sex toys designed to drive your chat partner absolutely stark raving nuts, without letting her come. Since the device permits only on/off control of the sex toys, might as well turn that bug into a feature!

I still have about eight populated Symphony boards kicking around somewhere. I'm sore tempted to dig them out and start tinkering with them.

Yes, I use my powers for evil.


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 29th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
Wow... that's quite the schematic. I do wonder, however, if the controls are visible or invisible. The random effect could be quite ... stimulating.
Sep. 29th, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC)
make one, and I'll buy it, even though my "chat partner" sits right next to me...
Sep. 29th, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)
i agree with purplebard. i want one!!!
Sep. 29th, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
Oh please do tinker, and if you need beta testers....
Sep. 29th, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)
I'd like to see
A sex-toy control peripheral being controlled by a program whose human input is being drawn from an MMIP ( http://www.interchangelab.com/ ). Theoretically, you wouldn't even need the chat session open if your partner's good at controlling the MMIP.
Oct. 6th, 2007 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re: I'd like to see
From wat I can tell, the MMIP is quackery. "The technology is based on interactions at the subatomic level where the distinction between mind and matter disappears and effects become instantaneous over any distance" screams hooey to me. The distinction between mind and matter isn't a question of physics, and quantum entanglement (the process by which pairs of particles can affect one another over any distance instantaneously) can't be used to transmit information faster than the speed of light.
Oct. 6th, 2007 10:28 pm (UTC)
Re: I'd like to see
Quantum entanglement doesn't transmit information. Think of it more like the following:

You're looking at a set of possibilities for who's eating with whom. You have made no observations, but you know the following axioms hold:

Linda will not eat with Billy.
Billy will not eat with Sue.
If Sue is eating with Linda, Billy eats with Bob.
... etc. ...

Thus you can apply the normal logical process of elimination to determine the entire state of the Linda-Billy-Sue-Bob-... system with incomplete data based on these domain axioms. Nothing unexpected here.

Quantum entanglement is along the lines of, "If you set up Linda with Sue, simultaneously, Billy will be eating with Bob." There's a good amount of evidence that this is not bounded by the speed of light. Moreover, there doesn't appear to be any sort of transmission of information involved. Rather, these things just happen as a singular event.

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg19526173.500-photons-flout-the-light-speed-limit.html (only shows that the speed of light is not an upper bound on photon transmission, which is not what we're discussing here, as no information is transmitted)
Oct. 14th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)
Re: I'd like to see
Yep. Quantum entanglement isn't bunk; it's the computer interface gadget that pushes all my "hokum" buttons. :)
Sep. 29th, 2007 09:02 pm (UTC)
Re: I'd like to see
Ok, first off, two questions:

- Do you mind if I show the schematic and talk a little bit about the symphony in my talk at Arse Elektronika next week?
- Do you mind if I use the schematic image for documenting the symphony on opendildonics.org? (Or you can put the info up yourself if you want)

Now then:

First off, I wasn't aware the symphony was DTMF based! Cool. I always wanted to build a DTMF driven vibe just for the sheer fun of it. Sexy dial tones, woo! I think the Televibe also worked off DTMF at one point.

USB Control would be super simple. I can give you the schematic for a board that can be built for < $5 that'll do USB w/ 3 PWM channels.

However, what about adding more "smarts" to the client chat software?

I've been wanting to do this idea for a long time, but my lack of attention span kills it just about every time.

To break this down, all that's needed is:
- Something to generate the signal
- Something to relay the signal to the toy
- A GUI to glue it all together.

My plans were to create a base GUI using Qt4, then run a pluggable driver system using python and libserial/libusb. I've written python drivers for all the toys I've ever worked with, so it makes it pretty simple. Then you can also create pluggable interfaces also using python. Then you have a nice, cross-platform, generalized sex toy control system that can replicate anything from current commercial toy controls to homebrew BDSM stuff to whatever the hell else you might want.

Also also: How hard would it be for me to convince you to send me a Symphony? Possibly before next Saturday? I'm trying to get as many toys together as possible to show off at Arse Elektronika. -.^
Oct. 1st, 2007 06:01 pm (UTC)
Re: I'd like to see
By all means, feel free to post the schematic (with accompanying explanatory text) and to talk about it during your lecture.

I dug several nearly-complete boards out of the closet yesterday; I say "nearly complete" because somewhere along the way, I've run out of a couple of components (the biggest one being the audio isolation transformer). I might be able to cobble together a working board tonight and ship it to you tomorrow or Wednesday, which should get it there by Saturday, but there's no guarantee; if there are any problems, I may not be able to make it work. I don't have any of the cases we originally made, though, so it'll just be a board and batteries--no plastic case. Email me at tacitr (at) aol (dot) com.

I'd love to see a schematic of the USB board you're talking about! It's easy to get from PWM o motor speed control, even with my limited grasp of analog stuff. :)
Sep. 29th, 2007 09:13 pm (UTC)
Pity there's not a male equivalent. . . yet. . .
Sep. 29th, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
Ya know Tacit, I just happen to have a very well outfitted lab and workshop just for guys that like to tinker ;) We it's all about people getting to work on their own projects.

Not to mention that I happen to make a hobby of building high-end sex toys m'self ;)

If you're interested in some assistance in development or whatnot, I'd be happy to help.
Sep. 30th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
Do I need to know you better???! *inno*
Sep. 30th, 2007 12:24 pm (UTC)
Probably, I'm Duck, how are ya?
Sep. 30th, 2007 07:21 pm (UTC)
I'm happy and snuggly and perched upon by two kitties under a favorite comforter lazily still abed with my laptop and my favorite music! Generally this means I am pretty damn good. The idea of a lab dedicated to projects, the experience in this particular topic, and the willingness to be helpful was quite appealing. :)
Oct. 1st, 2007 02:03 am (UTC)
Ok, well we have to break that down for a little clarification.

A: I, on my own free time, like to create custom sex toys on occasion. These can range from simple (snork) casts of my cock for creation of dildos, coat racks, etc, to massive computer controlled fucking machines, sexual enhanced furnature, and all manner of other fun stuff. I do this WHOLLY AND COMPLETELY SEPERATLY from my professional life, in which I own the Group*, a computer shop, and a recording studio.

B: (*)The Geek Group is a non-profit research and education orginisation that I founded over a decade ago in order to help people explore and create while learning about science and technology. The idea is simple, imagine if you were able to go to Bill Nye's lab and hang out, play with anything you like, and have full access to all the supplies and tools. Now take that a step farther and have access to a full size universities campus, that's the idea of The Geek Group. You can walk in the door with an idea, and leave a day, or a year later with a complete finished project. You can learn more at www.thegeekgroup.org feel free to pass the word. We have members all over the world, membership is free, and you and all your Geek friends should sign up, Because the Geek shall inherit the Earth! :)

As far as my willingness to help, it's what I do, and I am looking for suitable test subjects for my machines. If you're interested email me at cboden at the geek group . org and we can IM and see if you pass the requirements.

Oct. 6th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
Actually, if I lived anywhere near to Detroit (that's where you are, yes?), I'd take you up on that in a heartbeat.Pity I'm not there and you're not here.
Sep. 30th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
Here's an interesting idea. Combine this with some biofeedback. There's a meditation game available called wild divine that comes with a biofeedback device. In that case, they try to measure the effectiveness of your meditation.

So this would be that flipped on it's head. Rather than measuring how calm somebody is, you'd measure how excited they were. That information would then be fed back over the internet into a little graph that would show, in real-time, how turned on somebody really was. With some practice, I should think you could improve one's skill at finding exactly what their limit is.

Heck, maybe you could even manage this as a solo toy with some amount of AI. Imagine applying genetic algorithms to determining the best combination, duration, etc, of vibrations to provide different effects. So it could learn what works the fastest, what can keep somebody right on the edge, etc.

Seems to me that if you've got the basics of a computer to control speed and power, the rest is just a matter of clever software engineering.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 01:11 pm (UTC)
Have you ever considered partnering up with something like Red Light Center (NSFW)? They have financial backing, and would probably really dig on this. Drop me a note off journal. I might still have a contact there.
Oct. 6th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
I'd love to do something like this, though I lack the resources to pursue it properly. Still, it might be worth investigating; what's your email?
Oct. 3rd, 2007 09:06 am (UTC)
off-topic: congratulations... y'all got mind-hacked!

on-topic: "don't touch it... it's EVIL!"
Oct. 6th, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC)
Neat! I've been mind-hacked! :)
Oct. 12th, 2007 07:02 am (UTC)
Wow... DTMF. That's seriously old-school.

These days, you should be able to pick up an embedded microcontroller that speaks USB pretty cheap ($1 - $2), and then you're only left with the power electronics to worry about.

(I'm currently designing a 256K-byte flash-based video game cartridge for which the silicon is under $10 for the whole thing. This doesn't need near that sophistication.)

Getting down to brass tacks, it *sounds* like everything you want flexibility-wise is just a "small matter of software." Most of this can live in software on the computer if your main goal is to couple this to things like chat or videoconf clients. The key hardware enabler is the ability to turn something on or off from software on the computer, thereby making it a computer software problem.

I've seen generic I/O boards that'd be perfect for this: Boards that are USB on one end, and 16 I/O pins on the other. Put power drivers on the other side of the I/O and you can control up to 16 channels of gizmo. With client software on the computer, you could even use PWM to get speed control. The rest is just a communication challenge with the client software on the target end vs. the controlling end.
Oct. 12th, 2007 07:03 am (UTC)
BTW, if you develop such a product, you need to let me know. Poke dayo tell her to tell me. She knows me. :-)
Jan. 5th, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)
Evil madness
As some of you will remember I started developing a device that was inspired by the post http://tacit.livejournal.com/214115.html on the Mathematics of Sex Toys. and the progress can be seen here http://britishengineeringsystems.com/category/intelligent-vibrator/
Since starting that project I have been continuously adding feature to the list to be developed. (in fact to the point where the Beta version i was supposed to send off to my willing guinea pig to test has yet to be constructed cause i keep adding to it) However since i am also working on a CNC machine that i had to write new protocols for and uses a more powerful PIC than the one i wrote the original random vibrator software on I have been tempted to go over to this new chip for this project and this would give me a USB port and over a dozen I/O lines. I have also successfully interfaced a PIC to a GPS unit, an LCD and hopefully next an accelerometer and WiFi signal strength monitor. Another project I am working on is a PIC based web server mod so I have been reading up on networking protocols and stacks and was wondering about writing a small programme that would use UDP to send and receive control packets and pass them to the USB enabled vibrator. Security would be less of an issue than with other software since anyone intercepting the data stream would only only get some useless data relating to the users hijinks.

The development continues

Jan. 7th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Evil madness
Wow. I admire your passion. sounds like there's some feature creep going on with your prototype, though. :)
Mar. 7th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
Mu hu ha ha ha
A couple of things spring to mind here.

First, if you use solid state relays (or just drop the relays and use beefy transistors), you can switch things on and off about as fast as you can generate control signals, so you can do PWM.

Second, there are chips designed to make interfacing a simple microcontroller to an ethernet connection (e.g. the Microchip ENC28J60). I got a few because I was planning to make ethernet-controlled lights, but this sounds so much more fun.

The second item lets you get around the low switching speed caused by the DTMF decoder (rock on UDP), and the first gets around the lowish switching speed of relays.

As far as microcontrollers go, I recommend the Arduino for rapid-prototyping hardware. I've been playing with using it to regulate the speed of a motor from a PS2 controller, and it's pretty easy to code up some nice smooth speed regulation, pulsing, etc.

As an aside, and you may already know this, the magnetic field of a relay collapsing through the coil when it's switched off generates a spike of high voltage in the coil. I bring this up for two reasons. First, it's hard on your drive transistors, so you may want a diode across the coil to keep the spike from baking your transistors. Second, if you rig a relay as a buzzer and bring out leads from the coil, touching someone with the leads will be pretty intense (not that I'd ever do such an Awful Thing, of course :-).
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Mu hu ha ha ha
My prototype used solid state relays; I took them out of hte final version because they're quite spendy when compared with the mechanical varieties, and I thought I'd be mass-producing them.

An Ethernet-controlled microcontroller sounds like fun!
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )