In the future, some people will choose to spend
Valentine’s Day alone, having virtual sex with a 3D
avatar with the help of a fully responsive robotic
assistant. And by the future, I mean maybe next year.
Intrepid horndog hackers can do it right now.
Tenga is a Japanese manufacturer of disposable
male sex toys—they make cylindrical “masturbation
aids” that somehow don’t seem as repulsive as the
Fleshlight (perhaps mostly because they’re not called
a fleshlight). They’re also promoting a jerry-rigged
amalgam of software and robotics that’s easily the
closest you can come to having physical sex with a
At a tech conference last fall, Tenga unveiled a crude
contraption that allowed volunteers to participate in
a simulation wherein they received sexual favors
from an anime character through virtual reality
goggles. Since then, they’ve updated the software and the graphics of the simulator, and are continuing to promote robot-assisted virtual sex.
“I think in the future, the virtual real will become
more real than actual real sex,” Tenga CEO Tsuneki
Sato told me. He’d come by the Motherboard office to
demonstrate the “future of masturbation,” as he put
it. “That’s our slogan.” He laughed.
As soon as we sat down, he encouraged to put my
head into a pair of VR goggles, where a female
avatar was bent over the side of the bed and a
rendering of Tenga’s sex tube protruding from the
screen where the er, gun would typically be in a first
person shooter. My instincts immediately told me to
tear the glasses off my head; I peeled them off and
looked around. I mumbled something like, “shit.”
They laughed and told me to go on, and maneuvered
the robot arm so it was adjacent to my pelvis. If I
pushed the arm with my hips, sure enough, the
phallic cone responded onscreen, thrusting inward.
The machine in turn responded to the action on
screen too, generating resistance.
It was more creepy than erotic—especially given that
I was blindly bumping my pelvis into a plastic red
tube gripped by a robot at 3 pm, in broad view of the
VICE lobby where a growing number of visitors
were craning their necks with puzzled looks on their
faces. It was a special kind of comic embarrassment;
one I suffered for you, dear readers, who deserve only
the best in virtual reality sex robot journalism. I
could never imagine actually being turned by this
device. But there are apparently plenty of people
who are into Hentai and CGI porn out there, and this
technology isn’t far from making their pixelated
cyber fantasies come true.
Here’s how the tech works: The software, which was
designed for Tenga by the Japanese erotic game
developer Illusion, was crafted for the Oculus Rift,
which an aspiring virtual sex participant then straps
onto his head. The program interfaces with a Novint
Falcon, a haptic device designed to replace the mouse for PCs that became popular with gamers because it can respond to gunfire in first person shooters.
As for why Tenga’s crew employs the Falcon, Wikipedia does a nice job of making it perfectly clear:
The Falcon has removable handles, or grips, that the
user holds onto to control the Falcon. As the user
moves the grip in three dimensions … the Falcon’s
software keeps track of where the grip is moved and
creates forces that a user can feel, by sending
currents to the motors in the device.” So as you move
your hand around the grip, the Falcon responds
accordingly. “The Falcon’s sensors can keep track of
the handle’s position to sub-millimeter resolution,
and the motors are updated 1000 times per second
(1 kHz), giving a realistic sense of touch. The
surfaces of virtual objects feel solid, and can have
detailed textures applied to them.
Tenga is trying to give “detailed textures” new
meaning. The company rigged its masturbation
aid so that it’s held in place by the Falcon’s claw,
then programmed software to respond to the sex
simulation onscreen. The “game” consists of a 3D-
rendered woman in schoolgirl attire, who is either
bent over a bed or kneeling before the “player.” As the avatar in virtual reality moves, so does the Falcon— and so does the Tenga sex tube. Clothing is optional in the VR and out. You get the picture.
No, I didn’t actually try the contraption the way it
was intended to be used. I did (tentatively) mess
around with the responsiveness, and Motherboard’s
social media person/guinea pig Dan Stuckey gave it a
fairly exhaustive trial, as you can see in the photos
here. He asked the crew why the girl looked so sad;
they didn’t respond.
It was true—the creepiest thing about all of this
wasn’t even the robot handjob, but the melancholic
submissiveness of the avatar they’d rendered. I felt
empathy with the character, but not the kind I was
probably intended to.
Ugh. In terms of function, it was pretty accurate; the
robotic sex arm synched up with the virtual sex arm
“The physical dimensions of the Tenga were narrow,
which matched the avatar I was virtua-bangin’,”
Stuckey said. “I wonder if you’re stuck with the same
controller though. What if you’re interested in
Still, it’s not hard to imagine a future where someone
puts all the pieces together and this kind of
thing works seamlessly.
“He made it in two days,” Sato said, referring to
Illusion’s developer, Naoyuki Ootsuru, who had
come along, and who also presented us with an
enthusiastic demonstration of the technology. “Better than Fleshlight’s. More accurate and very simple. In the future he wants to link it with actual ladies, so the dildo moves more accurately.”
Tenga and Illusion have high hopes for robot-
assisted virtual sex, which they believe will soon
become a normal, destigmatized practice.
“I think that there’s a taboo with male
masturbation,” Sato said. “We want to normalize it,
that’s why we design features for it.” They also
suggested that the virtual sex contraption could even
become a public service. Ootsuru says he wants to
promote it as an outlet for the disabled. “They have
less access to sex, and this could help them,” he says, through Sato’s translation.
For now though, the contraption is a mostly DIY rig
that’s dependent on a model of the Falcon that’s not
even on the market anymore. Though Ootsaru is
looking for a replacement, it’s unlikely that a
contraption like this will be hitting the market soon.
It’s also worth noting that not everyone is bullish on
the future of virtual reality sex. I asked Allan Evans,
the CTO of Avegant, which is manufacturing a
VR Oculus competitor that beams images directly
onto your retina, if he thought people might use his
platform to improve the quality of virtual sex.
“We are going to abstain from supporting any
elements of the adult industry,” he told me,
unequivocally. “We’re not here to promote or
encourage any application associated with the adult
Still, the brief encounter with Tenga’s wiry
gadget was enough to see a glimpse of the future of
onanism; solitary immersion into a responsive,
pixelated fantasia. Yet the responsive virtual
technology isn’t being applied exclusively to solo
users. The sex tech industry at large is slowly
gaining steam; teledildonics, which allows long-
distance sex interactions, is making tentative steps
towards gaining market share. A company called
FriXion is working on facilitating “an online
community whose users are able to touch each other
using various supported haptic devices from hand
holding and kissing up to full penetrative sex—
regardless of where they are in the world, from
across a room to across an ocean.”
Robotic appendages can now simulate human ones,
or work in tandem with them. It’s getting easier to
imagine a world where humans are more
comfortable sharing their sex lives with robotic aids
and virtual avatars; haptics, VR, and augmented
reality platforms like Google Glasses are almost
certain to eventually shift they way we have and
think about sex. For some, it will be radical—it’s
entirely possible to have an immersive virtual
threesome where one party doesn’t exist at all.
Illusion’s Ootsaru hopes that as the market
for Oculus Rift software grows, he can write more
and better virtual sex content. And Tenga will be
right there with it, the premiere robot-operated
virtual reality-interfacing sex toy.
“Joining forces with these guys, that’s the future of
masturbation,” Tsuneki said. “Or the future of sex,