Chinese university invents robotic lips for remote kissing
A new creation promises to transmit kisses between long-distance lovers
Would you ‘kiss’ your partner remotely with a set of robotic lips? This is the promise of a new invention from robotics researchers at a Chinese university that claims to transmit a kiss over the internet to your long-distance lover.
The device consists of two paired sets of rubber lips, backed by sensors and animatronic motors. It then transmits the pressure of lips from one device to the other, while the sense of your partner being close up is conveyed by their image on a camera. Is this really about presence, though, or the opposite?
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
The mind shudders at the thought of the technical challenge of an animatronic tongue. But people have been hailing the arrival of ‘teledildonics’ for 30 years now, since a breathless article by David Rothschild in 1993 that imagined a time when “your sex life could be shut off for failure to pay your electric bill”. Since then, web-enabled sex toys have intermittently hit the headlines. As yet, though, most people prefer doing things the old-fashioned way — in no small part because physical intimacy with another person is more or less by definition a full-spectrum tactile experience.
Kissing is almost the only context where someone can be physically ‘all up in your face’, as the saying goes, without being frightening or threatening. The whole point is the proximity. But perhaps this product is not aimed at people who long for human presence, so much as those who recoil from it. Reportedly, the device is selling at a rate of around 100 a week, suggesting at least some people find it appealing. And since the pandemic, this group is on the rise.
Liberal anthropology has long contained as a core premise the assumption that it is good and right to treat separateness, not connection, as the default social condition. For many, the profound fear engendered by the virus normalised this — indeed, forced it on us, as in the full-body condoms some made out of shower curtains so they could hug their loved ones.
For some, this has irreparably tainted interpersonal contact with the kind of ‘yuck’ response normally experienced in close contact with something noxious. And, in the process, it has crystallised already emerging ‘digisexual’ identities and practices: that is, using technology as part of sexual intimacy — for example via sexting — and even using technology as a replacement for intimacy with another human.
At least some are already embracing virtual-first modes of sexuality, whether by desire or necessity, as attested by the wails of distress that erupted recently when the Replika app removed the sex chat feature from its AI ‘companion’. And perhaps this is inexorable: one implication of Virilio’s observation is that separating sex from interpersonal contact altogether really is just the logical endpoint of the condom.
And it’s bleakly ironic in this context that Chinese researchers are producing “telesexuality” devices even as the Chinese government introduces ever more desperate policy interventions to lure couples into having more children. It’s possible that none of us has thought through the contradictions and long-term implications of the devices that promised to free us.
There was a “Big Bang Theory” scene where Howard Wolowitz invents such a device. Scary.
Yes there was. I remember it well. Life imitating art….But yes scary. Who would want such a gadget.
kind of a loose use of the word ‘Art’ there…..
maybe loose use of the word ‘Life’ as well……
the word ‘imitating’ is correct though….
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!
Had to check it wasn’t the start of April.
Talk about “Sex on a selfie stick” .
Will it catch on in France?
Only if the users are allowed to cheat.
Tongue in cheek?
I am surprised that anyone is surprised. With the current standard of contact between the genders, non-organic replacements are a very obvious (albeit imperfect) alternative for those that are still interested in any form of sex.
Anyone buying this would seem to have more money than sense.
Great for those K-dramas where consenting adults are also able to have sex in bed while fully clothed.
Well that’s my new word for the day.
Increasingly I feel I have lived too long. Aren’t all these sex robots and remote devices simply another form of masturbation? Any long distance telephone conversation with conventional media if it leads to sexual activity is effectively onanistic (albeit assisted onanism). This is no different except it seems those “lips” will probably not stay as mouth lips in future models of this product. One can imagine the use Only Fans members will make of this.
Cue the misconceived lawsuits from adventurers falling over while trying to kiss someplace else.
Maybe the developers had done a few months internet dating and have retired to their rooms wile figuring how to never have to go outside again…..
Love…. it is not what it once was….
I’d rather have my dog kiss me. The whole concept is repulsive. Well, at least to me, since I prefer satisfying my tactile needs in person.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe