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A few months back, I wrote a blog post about a brain hack that might create a dildo the wearer can actually feel. The idea came to me in the shower. I'd been thinking about the brain's plasticity, and about how it might be possible to trick the brain into internalizing a somatosensory perception that a strap-on dildo is a real part of the body, by using sensors along the dildo connected to tiny electrical stimulation pads worn inside the vagina.

It's an interesting idea, I think. So I blogged about it. I didn't expect the response I got.

I've received a bunch of emails about it, and had a bunch of people tell me "OMG this is the most amazing thing ever! Make it happen!"

So I have, between work on getting the book More Than Two out the door and preparing for the book tour, been chugging away at this idea. Here's an update:

1. I've filed for a patent on the idea. I've received confirmation that the application has been accepted and the process is started.

2. I've talked to an electronics prototyping firm about developing a prototype. Based on feedback from the prototyping firm, I've modified the initial design extensively. The first version I'd thought about was based on the same principle as the Feeldoe; the redesign uses a separate dildo and harness, with an external computer to receive signals from the sensors in the dildo and transmit them to the vaginal insert. The new design looks, and works, something like this. (Apologies for the horrible animated GIF; art isn't really my specialty.)

3. The prototyping firm has outlined a multi-step process to develop a workable, manufacturable device. The process would go something like:

Phase 1: Research and proof of concept. This would include researching designs for the sensors on the dildo and the electrodes on the vaginal insert. It would also include a crude proof-of-concept device that would essentially be nothing more than the vaginal insert connected to a computer programmed to simulate the rest of the device.

The intent at this stage is to see if the idea is even workable. What kind of electrodes could be used? Would the produce the right kind of stimulation? How densely arranged could they be? How small could they be? Would the brain actually be able to interpret sensations produced by the electrodes in a way that would trick the wearer into thinking the dildo was a part of the body? If so, how long would that somatosensory rewiring take?

Phase 2: Assuming the initial research showed the idea to be viable, the next step would be to figure out a sensor design, fabricate a microcontroller to connect the sensors to the electrodes, and experiment with sensor design and fabrication. Would a single sensor provide adequate range of tactile feedback, or would it be necessary to multiplex several sensors (some designed to respond to light touch, others to a heavier touch) together in order to provide a good dynamic range? What mechanical properties would the sensors need to have? How would they be built? (We talked about several potential designs, including piezoelectric, resistive polymer, and fluid-filled devices.) How would the sensors be placed along the dildo?

Phase 3: Once a working prototype is developed, the next step is detail design and engineering. This is essentially the process of taking a working prototype and producing a manufacturable product from it. This includes everything from engineering drawings for fabrication to choosing materials to developing the final version of the software.

So. That's where the project is right now.

The up side? I think this thing could actually work. The down side? It's going to be expensive.

My partner Eve and I have already started investigating ways to make it happen. If we incorporate in Canada, we may be eligible for Canadian financial incentives designed to spur tech research and development.

The fabricating company seems to think the first phase would most likely cost somewhere around $5,000-10,000. Depending on what's learned during that phase, the development of a fully functional prototype might run anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000, a lot of which hinges on design of the sensors, which will likely be the most challenging bit of engineering. They didn't even want to speculate about the cost of going from working prototype to manufacturable product; too many unknowns.

We're discussing the possibility of doing crowdfunding to get from phase 2 to 3, and possibly from phase 1 to 2. It's not likely that crowdfunding is appropriate for the first phase, because we won't have anything tangible to offer backers. Indeed, it's possible that we might spend the initial money and discover the idea isn't workable.

It might be possible to just put the first phase on a credit card or something, though it'd hurt. Neither of us is really in a position to afford it, especially given the money we've spent establishing the publishing house and supporting the book.

Ideally, I'd like to find people who think this idea is worth investigating who can afford to invest in the first phase. If you know anybody who might be interested in this project, let me know!

Also, one of the people at the prototyping company suggested the name "Hapdick." I'm still not sure how I feel about that, but I do have to admit it's clever.

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 5
Update 6
Update 7
Update 8
Update 9


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 3rd, 2014 10:34 pm (UTC)
I may be missing something, but I'm wondering how well vaginal stimulation will work in this device, since many women don't get a lot of sexual pleasure from vaginal stimulation alone. They'd be able to feel *something* when the dildo was stimulated, but maybe not anything terribly interesting. What were your thoughts on this? Thanks for indulging my curiosity :)


Sep. 4th, 2014 12:44 am (UTC)
That's exactly what I was thinking. I love this whole concept and I'll be first in line to get one if it actually makes it to production. But the pleasure nerve endings are mostly concentrated in the clitoral region. Not that there aren't any sensors in the vaginal canal, but if the vaginal canal was just a penis turned inside out, tampon use would be a *very* different experience.

I'm not even a fan of penetration, personally. I mean, I occasionally like the feeling of being "full", but for me and, from what I understand the majority of women, the "pleasure" part really comes from clitoral and/or g-spot simulation (which, last I heard, was kind of a round-about way of putting pressure on the clitoral gland from the inside because the clitoral gland turns out to be much larger than just the little nub on the outside and sort of hooks around the rest of the reproductive organs in a horseshoe shape).

I'm wondering if a more effective shape might be something closer to like the butterfly vibrator, or the, what was that, sort of C-shaped vibe that kind of cups the outer vulva?

Maybe if it has the transmitter pad built into a panel in the front of the harness, just under the dildo, possibly even extending into a vaginal insert but mostly concentrating on a pad that "strokes" forwards and backwards along the upper-front vulva area where the clit is located in a motion that matches the strokes of the dildo?

Edited at 2014-09-04 12:47 am (UTC)
Sep. 4th, 2014 02:35 pm (UTC)

I'd be interested in a device that transmitted sensation from a dildo to clitoral-tissue area, enough to invest money in its development.
I would not be personally interested in a device that transmits sensation from a dildo to the vagina.

Besides my personal preference, I think considering the clitoral area as an alternative to the vagina makes sense for a couple reasons:

1 Developmentally, clitoral tissue is already analogous to the penile tissue represented by the dildo, is richly innervated, and the brain is predisposed to interpreting signals from that tissue in a way compatible with mapping to a dildo. Vaginal tissue is not anatomically analogous, so doesn't have that pre-existing mental map, and there are far fewer sensory nerves in the average vagina, most of them deep-pressure or 'stretch' nerves, which are both dissimilar from the varied nerves of penile/clitoral tissue, and harder less amenable to superficial/electrical stimulation. Why not work *with* nature here? It might avoid some foreseeable difficulties.

2 Not sure how to express this one concisely, but... Aside from people who favor the idea exactly as originally described, how about the people who would like to have a dildo with better sensory transmission, full stop, don't care where it 'plugs in'? Or who would like a dildo with better sensory transmission AND want to leave their vaginas open for other uses while wearing it? Or who either don't want to put anything in the vagina during sex at all, or not while wearing dildos/doing the penetrating? What sensations or experiences do the most potential users actually want? What configuration of device would appeal to the most potential users? (Supposing that appealing to a broad user-base is a priority.) Consider also the potential market as a sexual prosthesis for trans men-- I bet there would be many interested in some form of this project, so it might be wise to find out what that group of potential users wants.

3 If the surface to transmit sensation to the user is designed as a flattish flexible pad, it could be used flat to transmit sensation to the clitoral tissue, or rolled (perhaps around a semi-rigid form) to insert in the vagina-- either as an alternative version assembled by the producer (when ordering, select standard flat or custom for insertion), or as components adjustable by the user, depending on feasibility and cost-effectiveness. If the user interface is designed from the outset for insertion, it is unlikely to be amenable to modification for external use on very different topography.

Sep. 6th, 2014 02:28 am (UTC)
One of the issues with transmitting stimulation only to the clitoral area is density of the electrodes. The external, accessible bits of the clitoris are very richly innervated, but it's also quite small, so the electrodes would have to be tiny. There are all sorts of challenges that presents: different women are shaped differently, there's an upper limit on the spatial resolution of the nerve endings (and a lower limit on how small the electrodes can feasibly be made), and so on.

One of the design goals with this is to provide clitoral stimulation, but not for the entire shaft of the dildo. A biological penis is most sensitive on the underside just at the base of the head; the shaft itself, particularly the sides, is relatively insensitive. So the idea is to have greater sensor density in that spot on the dildo, and map those sensors to the clitoris.
Sep. 6th, 2014 02:21 am (UTC)
There are two separate but related questions involved here:

1. Can vaginal stimulation provide somatosensory feedback with enough resolution that your brain will incorporate this device into its sense of your body, causing you to feel like the device is actually part of you rather than a mechanical thing?

2. Can vaginal stimulation get you off?

I think the answer to #1 is "yes." I have no idea what the answer to #2 is.

The goal isn't necessarily to give the wearer an orgasm, though it'd be lovely if that happened. The goal is to hack the wearer's brain so that the dildo actually becomes a part of the wearer's body, rather than a thing the wearer is wearing. Mapping the impulses from the dildo onto some other part of the body should accomplish that, though it's difficult to do with parts of the body that aren't already both wet and richly innervated, which pretty much means the tongue or the vagina. (That's why the camera device for the blind I mentioned in the earlier post uses the tongue.)
Jan. 23rd, 2015 06:10 am (UTC)
For me, and for a large number of women, the answer to #2 is no. However, they did recently discover that the clit is actually a very large gland, sort of horseshoe-shaped, that just happens to have a little nubbin that's external and the rest sort of wraps around the vaginal canal. I'll see if I can find the link to the 3D rotating map that shows it.
Jan. 23rd, 2015 06:12 am (UTC)
Oh, here it is: http://www.3dvulva.com/

Edited at 2015-01-23 06:12 am (UTC)
Sep. 4th, 2014 01:25 am (UTC)
Go for it. I love the idea of you getting government funding for it.
Sep. 4th, 2014 07:36 am (UTC)
"Hapdick"?? I assume there must be a reference I'm missing. If you don't know it, it's an unappealing name.

I want this. WANT. I don't care if the vaginal stimulation is enough to get me off; the ability to feel something myself while using a strap-on would be excellent. I mean, of course there's a sensation of pressure against my skin/pubic bone when I thrust with a harness & dildo (not to mention the harness chafing & pinching), but to actually feel something intimate that corresponds to what I'm doing.... That would be so cool. I'd likely be using the strap-on solo & it would give fantasies amazing new dimensions.

I dunno, I don't think you should dismiss crowdfunding for the first stage so quickly. I don't know the requirements/guidelines of the sites but I've certainly seen campaigns that don't offer rewards to donors or even a promise of when exactly the money will be spent. Think of fundraising for charities or unfortunate individuals, for filmmakers or writers or musicians while they create, or for research in fields without immediate profits like vaccines. The recipient of these funds may give details of projected timelines or future steps, & some may promise to refund contributions if a goal isn't met, but I don't think you have to promise much of anything. My budget is very tight & *I'd* contribute to this because the research & technology would help people, if it works.

For purely personal reasons, though, I'd like to urge you to keep the device as adaptable as possible! I'm non-standard, apparently, & I've never found a strap-on harness, butterfly vibrator, Feeldoe or other insertable dildo/vibrator, or DP dildo/vibrator that fits my anatomy. I don't think it's possible to make an all-in-one unit that would fit users of differing heights & weights & configurations, let alone those who might want to use it anally or with a thigh-harness dildo or in some other way. It would be most adaptable if the outie & innie parts communicated wirelessly, or there were options of using longer or shorter connecting cords. The outie dildo should be able to fit in various harnesses--in fact, attaching any of it permanently to a garment automatically excludes people who can't wear that harness or panty or what-have-you. Hell, as far as I'm wishing, it would be great if both & innie parts were inflatable or available in different sizes/shapes or as a sort of sensor wrap or sheath I could put over my own dildo or insertable. Of course all these aren't feasible to produce, even if they can be engineered. I just want to argue that a sleekly designed product isn't as important as one that's useful & adaptable.

Hey, how about a version for soft packers too? For folks who want an intimate, 24/7, tactile connection with their dick, the sensation would be completely unique.... ;-)
Sep. 5th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC)
i've had to modify or toss every sex toy i've bought because apparently i'm "non standard" as well. big, stiff and hard describe may be fine for a dick (a matter of taste), but that's not right for a plastic toy. i always find them uncomfortable and want to sand them down a little. softer is better. the external part is more important than the internal part which is why the feeldoe design is such a good one. this design where the two are separate would miss the good parts. of course you're going to run into individual differences whenever you're making mass produced prosthetics. i prefer much smaller (internal bit) than what the toy market typically provides, switchable parts is where it's at. mr potato dick?
i also have no idea what hapdick means

crowdfunded research isn't unheard of. i would donate even though i'm kinda broke because this needs to happen! talk to other bloggers, put out the word, i bet you'll get a response.

here's an idea for touch sensitive robot skin http://www.instructables.com/id/Conductive-Rubber-Make-Touch-Sensitive-Robot-Skin/#step1

Edited at 2014-09-05 03:37 am (UTC)
Sep. 6th, 2014 02:25 am (UTC)
"Hapdick" is a play on "haptic;" a haptic device is a device that uses the senses of touch and proprioception (think videogame controllers that vibrate, for example). I like the play on words but I'm not sure I actually like the name--I think a lot of folks probably won't get it.

I think this design is a lot more adaptable than a Feeldoe-like design. The dildo can be maneuvered independent of the insertable bit, it can use different harnesses and inserts, the insert can be repositioned, you get the idea. Plus the prototyping firm expressed concerns over the technical challenges of mounting all the electronics (and the battery) inside a Feeldoe-like shape.

The goal is to have the harness separate of the other bits, so the dildo can be mounted in different ways, the harness can be adjustable, and the insert can be moved around if necessary. I absolutely agree that adaptability is critical.
Sep. 4th, 2014 02:59 pm (UTC)
Patents and such
So I got patents on a bunch of things so mind-numbingly boring I won't even mention the details. I am represented by a national large law firm with an IP practice that is the well respected. But I am anon, so take what comes next with the appropriate grain of salt.

You are doing this wrong. I am trying to help.

First: utility patents are not for "ideas", they are for "inventions". The law protects inventions, not ideas about inventions. That means (in general) physical manifestations of your ideas are patentable, but theories or ideas about making something are not. There is an interesting example, that can be instructive: the warp drive. Some guy filed a patent application for a space distortion engine (a warp drive) for faster than light travel. He though it was innovative, unique and patentable. He was wrong. The examiner rightly asked if his engine was built and functional. It was not. Not patentable, even if the theory would have been correct. Too bad, so sad.

Add to that another dimension: the US patent system favors "first to build" over "first to theorize". So generally speaking, the first dude to build the thing wins. Patents are not a reservation system. They provide a limited monopoly on an functional invention, but not a monopoly prior to the things existence.

Anybody can challenge your invention, at any time. If the examiner allows it tomorrow, that does not stop anyone else from coming back in five years and challenge the fact the patent was improvidently granted (granted when it should have been denied). You will need to prove your invention existed in working form at the time you filed the patent. If you fail, you lose the patent, forever. There goes your monopoly.

A few things that you need to consider:

- Your invention does not exist in any real form at the time you filed the (I assume) provisional patent. You have openly published the fact you do not have a working version of your invention, and that this is all in your head. You screwed yourself by posting that online.

I assume a provisional (self) patent application, because a patent attorney would not allow these posts. Provisional patents record the methods of your invention, in working form, for a later utility patent. You have one year from the provisional filing to "make it real" with a utility patent. After that one year is up, the details of your provisional patent become public knowledge and are forever more considered "prior art". Nobody can patent prior art. Not even you.

So that means unless you file that full utility patent in one year's time, you lose any chance of filing for that invention. Forever. But so do I (it's now prior art for everyone). So basically it would be the patent equivalent of open source, now.

So to that end, if you truly have a novelty that is patentable, you better move fast.

Sorry for all the bum-inducing words above. I offer them because you are talking about spending money. So I mean to help. If you make something cool, don't eff it up by blabbing about it over the internet and setting up all the evidence required for someone to successfully challenge your work. You would hardly be first person to invent something only to lose their monopoly because they did not understand the law.

On the upside, you have nothing worthy of patent. Yet. That means you have nothing to lose. Let your provisional lapse, and quietly keep up with your research. If you figure out how to make something of value (any number of parts here might qualify for a patent on their own, if they existed), then STFU about it and file with an attorney holding your hand. Never talk about it openly (even though the law allows limited disclosure before filing, you are saving headache if you STFU completely).

And for giggles, google "Teledildonics". It even has a Wikipedia page.

Good luck.

Sep. 8th, 2014 09:23 pm (UTC)
I'd say you will need to be aware of the issues inherent in detecting the current position of the stimuli.

You can use capacitance, similar to what modern smartphones use, but there are several issues there, including water based lubricants, which would fool the sensors. You can use IR light censors in pairs which would PROBABLY get through a sticky lube, but would be iffy as well (though it would look awesome in night vision mode.)

As someone who's done quite a lot of electronics design work, and who has taken on seemingly impossible tasks in human interface design (some of which were, in fact, impossible), I can say you should try prototyping as soon as possible with different types of sensors, and make it a point to be as "real world" as possible. Use 20 different kinds of lube, repeat. A wild guess would be that using an array of capacitive sensors with a thin coating over them might do the trick, but I just can't be sure. You can head to Adafruit.com, sparkfun.com etc and get capacitive breakouts to test with, and hook them up to an easy to use microcontroller like the Arduino. Hook them up, look at the measured output, then throw in the lube and see what happens. It might be all much better than I fear :)DO be cautious of firms that promise you they can make it work. I've seen that road, and it goes no where good!

If you want absolutely free (I mean it, your writing has meant the world to my wife and I) sanity checks / advice, let me know, and I'll throw you my email address!
Sep. 8th, 2014 11:15 pm (UTC)
I'm definitely up for sanity checks. :)

I thought about using capacitive sensors, but I'm not aware of any capacitive sensors that can provide a scaled (analog or PCM) output based on variations of pressure. If you know of any, let me know!

The prototyping guy I spoke to talked about some sensors he's worked with that are tiny fluid-filled tubes that vary in resistance based on pressure. There are apparently some piezoelectric polymers and some variable-resistance plastics that might work as well. Sensor design is definitely going to be tricky, I suspect.
Sep. 10th, 2014 10:55 am (UTC)
Maybe you could team up with the Orgasmatronics guys who made the Ambrosia vibe?

I think the innie-piece is probably best shaped like the We-Vibe or Rock-Chick; ie, an innie-outie piece that stimulates both vaginally and clitorally. I'd map it so that top couple inches maps onto clitoral sensation, while shaft action translates to internal sensation.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 15th, 2014 04:43 pm (UTC)
What about trying the Sybian company or one of the big sex toy companies for capital? They might have a R&D dept.

Sep. 8th, 2015 01:45 pm (UTC)
Crowdfunding is a good idea. A lot of people would want something like this.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )