In the early 2000s, the former Bell Labs engineer was busy caring for his elderly father and building his own technology business. That’s when he first came up with the idea for a companion robot: a machine that could look after his dad and keep him in touch with the outside world via webcam.
Hines started working on a prototype carebot, but ran into trouble finding financial and legal support for the project. So he gave up, and instead turned his attentions to Roxxxy, a life-size sexbot dressed in filmy black lingerie (“always turned on and ready to talk or play!”). That gambit was far more successful.
Roxxxy, termed a “sex robot” is a full-size interactive sex doll. The robot is built by the New Jersey-based company TrueCompanion. Hines worked as an artificial intelligence engineer at the Bell Labs before he founded TrueCompanion. Development of Roxxxy is claimed to have cost between $500,000 and $1 million.
For US $7000 to $9000 (based on customization) and a $40 monthly fee for tech support, Roxxxy offers patrons five preprogrammed preferences—gay, bisexual, lesbian, straight, and sadomasochistic—with such monikers as Wild Wendy, Frigid Farrah, and S and M Susan. Roxxxy is svelte and white, but Hines intends a future line of other races, ethnicities, and body types, not to mention additional faces for Roxxxy. A male version, Rocky, is planned by year’s end. “My wife wants to be a beta tester, which is just desserts for my spending time in the middle of the night with girls covered in silicone,” he says.
Hines devised the skin by encasing a woman—a fine-art model—in silicone and cutting the material away after it solidified. “Roxxxy has three inputs and motors where it counts,” explains Hines. “There’s a lot of heat buildup, so we installed a convection system. Other motors simulate a heartbeat and responsive gestures.”
Hines employed a voice-over artist to record the robot’s vocals—snoring, sleepy talk, and escalating orgasmic yelps—as well as a conversational mode programmed to discuss specific areas of interest. Roxxxy’s knowledge database starts with a customer’s answers to a preferences questionnaire of 400 questions.
New materials and technologies for sex dolls
Silicone dolls were at first made from tin-cure silicone but platinum technology has better longevity, less prone to tears and compression marks. For this reason the “RealDoll” manufacturer reported switching from the tin to the platinum material in June 2009 and all other manufacturers have followed suit.
Since 2012 or so a thermoplastic elastomer alternative known as TPE has come into common use particularly by Chinese manufacturers which has enabled realistic dolls to be made which are cheaper than those composed of the high quality expensive platinum cure silicone.
CybOrgasMatrix dolls used an elastic gel, which they claimed to be superior to silicone in elasticity, shape memory, and durability. Both this company and the company “First Androids” once offered pelvic thruster motor, audio capability and heated orifices, though these options are no longer available. Several modern doll manufacturers now offer the last option on their silicone dolls, with the addition of an internal heating system.
Germany became “Europe’s Bordello”, and the dark side to the country’s booming sex industry
Germany is sticking with real women.
Where are all the care-robots?
It’s especially curious that the carebot revolution has not taken place, in light of how direly we need it to. In the UK, the number of citizens over the age of 65 is expected to surge by 12 per cent by 2020; and the number of over-85s by 18 per cent. Reports have identified care for the elderly as one of the fastest-growing roles in healthcare.
It’s certainly not a lack of robots that’s causing the hold-up. A bevy of recent prototypes includes Toyota Research Labs’ Robear to lift people out of bed, wheelie bot Zenbo, which can call for help in an emergency, and the seal pup Paro, which takes on the emotional labour of fuzzy companionship. In a demo video for Robot-Era, a project recently piloted in Italy and Sweden, “friendly machines” pick up groceries and mail, relay video calls, take out the rubbish, provide reminders about medication, and take their owners’ arms as they stroll down the street.
But how well will these sell? Not very, if you believe surveys. It seems that people don’t like the idea of carebots looking after their vulnerable relatives. Of more than 25,000 people questioned in a 2012 survey of attitudes in the European Union, 60 per cent thought robots that care for children, the elderly and the disabled should be banned outright; and 86 per cent said they would be uncomfortable with one caring for their children or parents (though many more were OK with the idea of a robotic assistant and even a surgeon).
In a separate poll of people in the US, 65 per cent of respondents across all ages agreed that it would be a “change for the worse” if robots became the primary caregivers for the sick and elderly.
In the paper “Granny and the Robots”, Amanda Sharkey and Noel Sharkey at the University of Sheffield, UK, point out another drawback to life with a robo-caretaker: it’s lonely. Putting a carebot in place of a human might deprive many of one of their few opportunities for regular social contact. Such isolation is linked to poorer health outcomes, such as a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It could also make people feel plain dehumanised – ripped of their dignity, a vulnerable object to be lifted, fed or prompted at intervals.
Or, as one person put it recently in The Guardian, being left with a carebot is just “another way of dying even more miserably”.
The future for care robots is looking a lot murkier. Unlike with sex robots, we don’t know what we want from them.
SOURCES – New Scientist, wikipedia, youtube