The world of sex tech is moving incredibly quickly – from new motors that create unique sensations to teledildonic toys that work over a long distance. In that environment it’s all very well having an awesome idea, but how do you bring the sex toys of the future to market? We chatted to one of our co-founders, Adam Lewis, about the development of PULSE, the future of sex toys, and a few new surprises from HotOctopuss…
How long does it actually take to get a cool sex toy from initial idea into people’s bedrooms?
“Well with PULSE it took around 4 years, which is a hell of a long time in sex toy development. If you’re making something that’s a variation on a toy that already exists it’s much quicker. But the PulsePlate™ is unique – no one’s ever used oscillating vibrations like that before – so it took us much longer than most to actually get the product in people’s hands. Now that we’ve invented this cool technology though, we can use it in other toys more quickly – and we’ve been looking at interesting ways to apply the PulsePlate™, with some brilliant new things coming out next year.”
Talk us through the process – how do you go from idea to reality?
“Well, we start off with a team discussion – we explore the idea and see if it’s plausible. Well, actually I guess ‘plausible’ isn’t always the right word. Because we want to do things that haven’t been done before, they might not always seem plausible when we first talk about them! So ‘good’, I guess. We’re mostly just working out whether this idea would actually feel good.
“Then the next step is we propose it to our design company. They usually want to focus group it, but we prefer to do focus groups ourselves. For instance, with one of our new toys which is coming out next year, it’s designed to be a powerful, intense sex toy for women: so we got a group of sex blogging women round the table and got their thoughts on it.
“Next: the design company takes the ideas from our group and they come up with concepts. They’ll also prototype certain elements: if we want to use a new shape or material, for instance, they’ll prototype that.”
Adam’s a big fan of prototyping and experimenting. He explains that sex tech isn’t all just about inventing brand new motors – he’s really passionate about ergonomic design. He wants to make sex toys that feel natural and comfortable sitting in the palm of your hand – ones that seamlessly integrate into your sex rather than feel like an awkward addition. And sometimes that takes time.
“With PULSE, we were doing something so different that there weren’t even the tools to make it to start with – we had to come up with new ways of making moulds to form the toy. But one of the main things we wanted was to make sure it looked good and felt natural.”
It’s not always possible, though: as Adam enthuses about one of his latest ideas around the way that motors and vibrations work, he explains that the technology at the moment just isn’t there to make what he wants possible:
“Sometimes sex tech needs a bit of time to catch up with our imaginations.”
How about patents? Do you have to patent your ideas and designs?
“We have a patent on the PulsePlate™– it takes a long time! Let’s say you had a really unique idea: you first go to a patent lawyer and they do a bunch of searches – scouring for something that predates your idea and is similar. Then they draw out what your patent is – what you’re actually trying to protect – and you apply. Then the patent office comes back with suggestions of other things that might do similar stuff. So you refine your application and go back. In total, for PULSE, it took three to four years.”
And how about the design?
“Design is always an outcome of the function for us. We’d invented PulsePlate™ technology so the design of the toy had to be one that worked best with that – making the most of the oscillations. We also protect our designs although design patents are much harder to enforce than utility patents. Because of this you often see copies of other people’s designs and it actually breaks my heart. If I see a sex toy that’s just a rip-off of a really cool new sex toy I just think: someone’s worked really hard on that, and you’ve taken the idea. Heartbreaking.”
Talking of new designs… what’s next for Hot Octopuss?
“We’ll have two new toys out at the beginning of next year, which is incredibly exciting. One is an entry level PULSE that is incredibly effective but does not use our patented PulsePlate™ technology allowing us to come in at a lower price point. It’ll be a winner for anyone who wants a PULSE but just can’t afford it.
“The other one is a female sex toy – utilising PulsePlate™ technology and therefore the unique vibrations of PULSE but putting them into something designed for women. It’s much more competitive in that space because there are so many incredible sex toys for women on the market. But we’ve got the PulsePlate, and it will be powerful and look cool, so we’re excited to get it launched early next year.”
There are lots more ideas in the making as well – Adam enthuses about new ideas for materials and ergonomic design as well as twists on old favourites such as the cock ring. There are always new opportunities, especially as sex tech is hitting the mainstream media, with more people talking about the future of sex toys and porn.
Where do you see sex tech – and Hot Octopuss – in ten years time?
“I think the future is in teledildonics, definitely: sex toys which mean you can have sex with someone over a distance, and which can interact with your porn. It’s not about app-enabled toys as such – there are lots of sex toys which can be controlled remotely via an app. That’s cool, but it’s not really any different to having other sorts of remote control.
“I think the future of sex tech lies in giving a unique user experience. For example, in the future your PULSE could sync with the virtual reality porn you’re watching – meaning the vibration patterns are matched to what’s happening in the film. That’s pretty cool, right? And of course then you can extend that to virtual reality chat or sex with a partner – even if they’re far away you’re having a totally virtual sexual experience, but you’re in sync with each other.”
Adam’s excited about the possibilities, although there are some areas of sex tech that he’s a bit wary of. The debate on the future of sex seems so dominated by discussion of artificial intelligence and ‘sex robots’, he wants to try and move the conversation away from that stuff and onto the more exciting areas of teledildonics and virtual reality.
“Robots feel like a more sex tech version of sex dolls – and that brings the conversation back round to a kind of stigma that we’ve spent a long time fighting. This idea that male sex toys are for guys who ‘can’t get it elsewhere’ and that sex toys are simply a ‘replacement’ for a partner. It’s not true and it’s incredibly damaging.
“We’re just starting to see real progress on that though – more couples are bringing male sex toys into their bedrooms, and people are starting to see that sex toys aren’t just a ‘replacement’ for people. It helps that more male sex toys are taking an approach like ours – where they’re not designed to look anatomical.”
So do you think sex tech will help push that on? Adam’s really confident.
“People are already starting to see the possibilities: the stigma around watching porn is going away, and more of us are seeing it as part of a shared experience with our partners. Then when you add things like teledildonics and toys like PULSE which create genuinely new sensations, people see how sex toys can be an enhancement to your sex life rather than a replacement for a partner.”
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