On November 24-26, the student technology club at Goldsmiths University in London held the second edition of Sex Tech Hack, just as fiercely inclusive and indie as the first.
London, from our correspondent
Saturday, November 25. For the second year in a row, Goldsmiths University is hosting Sex Tech Hack, a two-day hackathon on the themes of company, intimacy and sexuality in a former church converted into a creative studio and, on this occasion, a hacker camp.
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Around the same time last year, Hacksmiths, the university’s student tech club, organized the first hackathon on sexuality in Europe. The concept has since spread to France, with SexTechLab at École 42 last May (which we covered here) and in the United States, with the first SexTech Hackathon in New York. Australia will have one of its own in February 2018.
With this second edition, London’s Sex Tech Hack has cranked it up a notch, says Kevin Lewis, one of the organizers. First, because the team is more experienced—Hacksmiths has since organized some 30 hackathons in the past year. Also because the dialogue is even more open, with an entire day dedicated to presentations and discussions. And the more than 50 sex hackathoners had access to much more electronic equipment in order to produce their 17 projects: vibrating motors, heat sensors, flexible sensors… “Tools that apply well to what we want to do,” says Kevin.
Dorcel on standby
The prizes were sex toys, of course, provided by adult tech-toy start-ups Hot Octopuss, Mystery Vibe and the Japanese company Tenga. The founder of Mystery Vibe, Stephanie Alys, already present in 2016, talked about the difficulty of going from idea to market. Hers was the only visible presence of the industry all weekend.
Not that the sex-toy industry isn’t interested in technology. According to Kate Devlin, professor at Goldsmiths University, researcher in cognitive science, gender and sexuality, “We went from the old days of sex toys to much more technologically advanced objects, smart devices with beautiful esthetics.” In short, says the sex hackathon coorganizer, “We went from an engineering phase to a design phase, and that’s very important.”
Outside the mainstream of mass-produced sex toys, emerging start-ups care not only about the pleasure of their customers but also about accessibility, she continues. So Hot Octopuss designs its products for therapeutic use by people who are paralyzed or have erectile problems.
Big industry names, however, were absent at Sex Tech Hack. “We talked with big companies, but it didn’t work out,” Devlin explains, although she remains hopeful for future editions. “We want them to participate but we don’t just want their money, we want them to be involved, to join the community. It’s not just about partnerships, we need to build relationships with these companies.” Dorcel Lab, one of the leading companies in adult entertainment in France and very present at SexTechLab in Paris, is keeping a watchful eye on the hackathon results.
— Dorcel Lab (@DorcelLab) November 27, 2017
Pavlov and simulation
Meanwhile, familiar faces came back for more. Among them, Lisa Evelyn Rombout, researcher in cognitive science and artificial intelligence, who won last year with her poetic Peacock, a device that opens like the tail of a peacock when the environment it is connected to becomes humid. This year, she collaborated with Oli Lipski, a hackathon newbie who is researching the sex tech industry. Their project is inspired by the sex-saturated science-fiction novels of Charles Stross and the myth of Zeus taking the form of golden rain in order to seduce a woman. “Masturbation is boring,” Rombout declares provocatively. Their solution is a blanket full of vibrators. An augmented reality projection acts as a magic mirror, in which the user can observe the golden rain falling on her as the vibrators stimulate the illuminated parts of her body.
More horizontal pleasures could be experienced in a project by Caroline Yan Zheng, researcher at the Royal College of Art, who also participated in last year’s edition. Her team developed Sense Me, a sensory hammock resembling a torture bed that stimulates certain parts of the body with connected bands. Eventually, the user will be able to control the vibrators with his voice, making this augmented masturbator accessible to people with physical disabilities.
Kate Devlin, lying comfortably in the sensory hammock:
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Simpler hacks included Fake it till you make it by Sabrina Verhage, another returning hackathoner who came from Denmark, where she organizes hackathons with Lisa Evelyn. An Arduino-controlled sex toy intensifies its vibrations in response to your moans—the more sound you make, the more it vibrates. The bonus is the Pavlov effect, she explains to a roaring crowd: soon, your brain will associate moaning with pleasure… Nose Stroker helps you teach your partner how to caress your nose, or any other (more erogenous) part of your body—a playful hack that uses gamified points to encourage the erotic player to keep practicing.￼
Softdongs was another winner. It took the prize for most personalizable, as a website to customize packers, 3D-printed phallic objects carried by transgendered people to appease dysphoria. “These are very personal objects, but there was no personalization,” explains Cam Wildridge, another returnee, who last year developed a smart bra.
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Just as portable, Jo Franchetti‘s scarf is connected to the Twitter account @CheerLights, which controls the colors of its LEDs. She intends to implement this hack into her wedding dress. “I get anxious when I can’t check my phone,” she says. “This way, I’ll know that my guests are thinking about me and support me.”
— Chiin (NB | She/Her) (@AnalyticsPanda) November 26, 2017
This year featured virtual reality (VR), with a workshop hosted by Samsung Internet, one of the event’s sponsors, to learn how to create virtual worlds. “Technology is becoming easier and easier to use in terms of cost and technical charges,” says Kevin. “One of our themes is accessibility, and VR offers an interesting opportunity to build an attractive environment, even without a fully abled body.”
It was also a chance for Sinead Doyle and François Hoehl, Sex Tech Hack newbies, to further develop their application Clitocopia, a VR game to find the clitoris hidden among the fruits, based on Where’s Wally. Video game developer Oded Sharon traveled all the way from Israel to join the hackathon, where he made three games. First, an application that convincingly tricks your brain into thinking that what you’re touching (for example, a finger) is a penis by projecting the image into a headset. Second, a sex robot app, where the rather embarrassed guinea pig must submit to sexual relations in VR. Third, a riff on the arcade classic Whac-A-Mole, where the objective is to make penises ejaculate as fast as possible in order to make them disappear—uneasy, but very funny.
Sex Tech Hack II website
Read our report of the first edition of Sex Tech Hack