Manufacturers on Cutting Edge
User-friendly interfaces and easy-touch buttons aren't just for iPods anymore, and the software Motorola used to model the newest Razr might also have been used to design that stainless steel dildo you used last night.
More than ever, sex toy and product manufacturers are adopting tools and techniques used by mainstream technology developers and inventers, and many of them are engineers themselves who never thought they'd end up using their skills to create top-of-the-line sex tools.
Greg Delong and Chris Clement of Njoy started their company with years of engineering and inventing experience. The two have developed everything from bicycles to racing yachts and started in the adult product business with notebooks full of ideas for the future of sex toys.
Their first line of products, meant at first to be their stepping stone, have become their signature: smooth, solid stainless steel wands and anal plugs that are as recognizable as their logo.
"I'd say that Njoy excels at high-tech low-tech," Delong said. "By which I mean that, for now at least, we're focused on applying high-tech design tools and manufacturing processes to rather low-tech products."
Delong said that he and Clement are expanding their current line to push the limits of stainless steel manufacturing by using larger, more complicated designs — and the only way to do it is to use the same 3D modeling programs and computer-controlled tooling used in major mainstream industries.
"I liken the process of 3D modeling to virtual sculpture," Delong said, "enabled by a very powerful modeling software which was initially developed by the aerospace and auto industries. The software we use enables us to examine multiple iterations of a design quickly, always tweaking things to achieve a confluence of function and aesthetics, while being mindful of limitations in the manufacturing process."
Njoy's newest venture is the Eleven, the company's first hollow stainless steel dildo, to be released in the spring. Because it, and future designs, is much larger than current Njoy products, Delong and Clement needed to not only explore ways to produce them in a cost-effective way, but to make them practical for the user. Delong said the company has begun employing new tooling techniques, including computer-controlled machining and TIG welding — a process that allows for greater control and a stronger weld when using thinner sections of stainless steel.
And though their stainless line has consumed most of their time and energy since it launched two years ago, Delong's and Clement's idea books are burning holes in their hands, and they spent 2007 solidifying their infrastructure to get ready for the next big thing.
"I don't think vibration is the future," Delong said. "I think vibration is 100-year-old technology that happens to work really well and make people money. There are other ways to stimulate the body, and I don't think we [as an industry] have even scratched the surface yet."
Delong isn't the only member of the adult product industry who believes that vibration is old news. Two of the most technologically innovative products on the market today — the Eroscillator and Je Joue's SaSi — don't rely on vibration the way that traditional sex toys do. In fact, the developers of the Eroscillator are strict to inform that it is neither a toy, nor a vibrator.
Traditional vibrators' motion comes from an off-balanced spinning motor that makes the entire product shake. When applied to a sensitive area, the vibrator merely hits the area up and down quickly and repeatedly, giving the illusion of vibration. The feeling of immediate pleasure soon fades, and some women end up going numb before climaxing.
Advanced Response Corp, the creators of the Eroscillator, developed a completely different motor that, instead of an up-and-down motion, oscillates it back and forth, which causes the tip of the vibrator to move in a one-of-a-kind rubbing motion. This revolutionary movement has helped women around the world experience their first orgasms and is the only product endorsed by sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
The tip of the product, which is an interchangeable with a slew of different attachments designed to accommodate the unique anatomy of each user, is an extension of its oscillating motor and remains separate from its body, which allows it to be completely silent when turned on.
"It's the holy grail of stimulation," Advanced Response Corp Technical Director Lionel Woog said. "As the user applies more pressure, the number of oscillations remain the same, but the angle diminishes. The sensation will get stronger, but will not numb her. This is why it helps women who are anorgasmic."
The Eroscillator, which strongly resembles an electric toothbrush, was developed more than a year ago and remains relatively unchanged since then. Woog said that with his product, women won't find the best color or coolest shape — the company concentrates solely on the quality of orgasm, which is what really matters.
"It's not where the industry is, but I personally believe that this is where it will go," Woog said.
Alicia Relles, buyer for sex-positive retailer Babeland, said she's seen all sorts of techie toys come and go through her store, and only a few have stood out. Two years ago, an innovative and truly new-age vibrator called the Je Joue was released on the market, and though it offered new vibration possibilities and programmable functions, Relles said it may have been released a few years too soon.
"It was sort of ahead of its time," Relles said. "You had to use software with it, had to program it and wasn't just a simple turn off and on product."
The Je Joue's LED panel featured scrolling instructions, and the user had to go online to download different functions, a step Relles believes may have deterred people from purchasing it. However, Je Joue's newest incarnation, the SaSi, features not only an improved interface and design, but even a brain.
"There are two major innovative ways in which Je Joue utilizes technology in the SaSi: unique movement and customization," Je Joue Technical Developer Duncan Turner said. "The design and development team at Je Joue has always focused on the use of movement as well as vibration as a form of stimulation. This provides a more natural and intuitive sensation than vibration alone."
The SaSi features a unique roller-ball stimulator under a thin silicone membrane that moves in a kneading motion as it vibrates, offering the user a sensation unlike any other offered by a sex product.
"There are 24 different grooves programmed into it and five different pulsations and speeds all controlled by one button," Relles said. "And if I like something, the SaSi remembers it and will go back to that function the next time I use it."
Turner said that rather than using a computerbased interface, he and his team developed "Sensual Intelligence" in the vibrator that remembers what the user does and does not like and will actually learn the exact sensations and patterns she wants to feel when using it.
Turner said the biggest challenge his company faces comes not from harnessing new technologies to create new experiences, but to design an interface that allows the user to control the experiences intuitively.
"We believe that Je Joue is the only truly innovative sex toy manufacturer in the marketplace," Turner said. "We see the possibilities created by all sorts of different actuator technologies which are coming onto the market. There is a general trend towards customization with regards to aesthetics and functionality, but that applies across most industries."
A perfect example of this trend is what Apple has done with its iPod, making it available in a rainbow of colors and variety of shapes and hard drive sizes, allowing customers to tailor their purchase to their personalities and budgets.
Before founding the music-inspired OhMiBod line, Suki worked for several years at Apple, where she learned valuable knowledge about product development and customer appeal, which she uses now to create vibrators that work in harmony with iPods and music players, cell phones and even the iPhone.
"I think that my years at Apple were extremely valuable," Suki said. "They are very focused on the customer experience from packaging to user interface to functionality. This is embedded in I the way I think as I develop a product and decide on features and usability."
Suki said her wand and egg vibrators each feature a chip that translates the audio from a song or a caller's voice into electronic pulses that drive the product's motor. The vibrators pulsate to the beat of a song or the rhythm of a lovedone's voice.
"I see [trends] changing a bit in that companies will begin to focus on keeping people connected to one another intimately," Suki said.
"Because consumers are so mobile these days spending lots of time traveling for business, I think that there will be a new crop of toys that come out allowing people to 'stay in touch' from afar."
One such company, London-based Nexus, has exactly that in mind and is in the process of finalizing a specialized line of vibrators operated by Bluetooth technology, which allow for the incorporation of DVDs, toys and computer games when using its products.
The company already has dabbled in developing vibrators using more advanced technology than its competitors, and its Vibro prostate stimulator features a bullet vibe that holds a customized microchip that contains three separate vibration and pulsation patterns at intensities designed specifically to effectively stimulate the Pspot.
"Our development team is constantly researching and working on ways to reach out in as many ways as possible with regards to technology and giving their customers what they want," Nexus Public Relations Director Nina Naran said.
Each year, the sex product sector of the adult industry makes a name and a reputation for itself as it evolves, adopts and invents new trends, and continues to blur the fine line between mainstream and adult.
By incorporating innovation and techniques learned from and used in the electronics, automotive and aeronautics industries, companies like Njoy, Je Joue and OhMiBod prove the industry is not only legitimate and ahead of its time, but also is responsible for the wellbeing of millions of people around the world — and that's what they're in business to do.