It’s been a whirlwind 5 months for Douglas Hines, the self-professed computer geek who—after wading in obscurity for two decades in the computer-systems trenches—created a media frenzy with Roxxxy, the world’s first sex robot.
News outlets like Fox News, BBC, and CNN clamored for a shot of Roxxxy after her January unveiling at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, while the Web site for his company, True Companion, logged 4.4 million hits. Roxxxy will be featured in the upcoming Discovery Health network documentary Sex Robot! And Hines has been fielding investor requests while simultaneously taking steps to expand and refine his product line with advanced facial animatronics, like blinking eyelids. It’s also been a bit scary—he’s had to dodge nutcases and even death threats.
“Look, I’m middle-aged, balding, and heavy,” says Hines, a 27-year IEEE member. “This was totally new to me. But it turns out there’s a big demand for this product, and we’re just swamped.”
For US $7000 to $9000 (based on customization) and a $40 monthly fee for tech support, Roxxxy offers patrons five preprogrammed preferences—gay, bisexual, lesbian, straight, and sadomasochistic—with such monikers as Wild Wendy, Frigid Farrah, and S&M Susan. Roxxxy is svelte and white, but Hines intends a future line of other races, ethnicities, and body types, not to mention additional faces for Roxxxy. A male version, Rocky, is planned by year’s end. “My wife wants to be a beta tester, which is just desserts for my spending time in the middle of the night with girls covered in silicone,” he says.
Hines devised the skin by encasing a woman—a fine-art model—in silicone and cutting the material away after it solidified. “Roxxxy has three inputs and motors where it counts,” explains Hines. “There’s a lot of heat buildup, so we installed a convection system. Other motors simulate a heartbeat and responsive gestures.”
Hines employed a voice-over artist to record the robot’s vocals—snoring, sleepy talk, and escalating orgasmic yelps—as well as a conversational mode programmed to discuss specific areas of interest. Roxxxy’s knowledge database starts with a customer’s answers to a preferences questionnaire of 400 questions. Then Roxxxy periodically uplinks to the home office wirelessly for upgrades and—based on the conversations between customer and robot—new information.
This isn’t your grandpa’s robot—although oddly enough the technology started out that way. Hines earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with a minor in computer science in 1988 from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, in Newark. He then spent 15 years developing system integration, phased-array radar, data mining, and artificial-intelligence software at nearby companies—most notably Bell Laboratories. He opened his own consultancy, Data Software Solutions, in Lincoln Park, N.J., in 2002. By then, he was caring for his elderly father. He set about designing a user-friendly, personality-infused robot to help with elder care. But Medicare wouldn’t fund it, and the liability insurance was too costly for health-care companies.
Then in 2006, a friend suggested the adult entertainment industry, which is “recession-proof and, except for some 3-D visual effects, had no innovation going on,” says Hines. “Plus, a robot can’t be pirated like DVDs.”
It took another four years, an undisclosed yet significant amount of his own money, and a staff of 19 machinists, sculptors, and welders to perfect the prototype. Meanwhile, Hines’s own fantasies for his product still concern the retail (customer help at mall kiosks), education (kids talking to a robotic Ben Franklin or Albert Einstein), and health industries. Recently, the U.S. Army approached Hines about building robots with circulatory systems for medics to better practice field medicine.
“After this came out, so many people came up to me and said, ‘I thought of that!’ But of course, no one’s done it,” Hines says, laughing. “My wife calls me the tinkerer. I just love to experiment.”
About the Author
Susan Karlin, based in Los Angeles, writes frequently for IEEE Spectrum about the intersection of entertainment and technology. She also contributes to The New York Times, Forbes, and Discover.