If these three inventions are any indication, people are getting very, very lonely.
There is a recurring think-piece I see crop up every few months with one central thread: technology is isolating us all, especially romantically. While there is validity on both sides of the debate regarding the loneliness of tech, we all know that the world has come a long way in enabling people to independently satisfy their sexual desires. With today’s array of dildos and vibrators, webcam models, blow-up dolls, and other technological wonders, you no longer need a partner to fulfill your sexual fantasies and orgasmic urges.
But what of pure, platonic affection? The need to be wrapped in the warmth of another body, to have someone pet your head soothingly after a rough day, to squeeze in a way that makes you feel loved and missed. These nonsexual, and yet irreplaceable, aspects of companionship seem to be almost more elusive and less imitable than the sexual facets. But science is developing tools to help fill the craving for simple companionship, proving that there may be quite a profitable market for "non sex" toys and services. When we keep advancing and integrating tech into our lives, we will continue to desire tech-based solutions to the accompanying reclusion. And if we're as lonely as we say we are, cuddling might be the next frontier for inventors to master.
Funktionide, The Interactive Pillow
Part Flubber-look-a-like and part romantic aide, this curious, soft robot pillow was designed specifically to cure loneliness. German designer Stefan Ulrich worked to build an isolation-curbing technology that was unique in that it was "alive". Utilizing artificial muscle technology, the Funktionide has sensors that react to temperature, color, and human touch, like cuddling and holding—even breathing. If you watch the video of the interactive pillow above (and you absolutely should; I'm making it mandatory), you will notice that the quasi-sentient robot pillow's behavior most closely resembles a beloved pet.
But the designer put electroactive polymers into this morphable pillow for the reason of meeting our emotional, romantic needs. Ulrich suggests that if we constantly surround ourselves with our technology, perhaps even bring it into our bed, it should serve other emotional purposes. The human-like movements of Funktionide almost make it seem as if the pillow is making a conscious decision to cuddle with us. And if we're going to include a non-sex toy in our lives, we want it to choose us.
The Girlfriend Coat
It looks like an ordinary coat at first, a hooded toggle coat with a neon green nylon belt. But little do you know that there’s a mechanical device on the waist that tightens the belt, causing the coat to “hug” the wearer whenever he wants. The real kicker, however, is that the coat comes with a pair of headphones featuring a female voice whispering, "Sorry I’m late." The intention, obviously, is to simulate the effect of being hugged from behind while you’re waiting for someone, an interesting romantic scenario to choose from all of life’s options. The coat, developed by students at the University of Tsukuba, is called "Riajyu Coat," "riajyu" being Japanese slang for "someone who is pleased with their life outside of the internet." Aptly put, Japanense lexicon. You have to hand it to them for finding the silver lining: at least you’re getting cuddles in “real life.”
Sometimes, no matter what kind of day you have, all you want to do is crawl into a warm bed and get swathed by a supportive cuddle by your significant other. If you’re single, this can be hard to pull off, as brothels usually come with the implication of sex, and friends can be hard to pin down when all you want to do is use them as a big spoon (though, the kinder ones will oblige). Thankfully, Japan has an answer for this. Soineya, which literally translates into “sleep together shop,” opened its doors in the fall of 2012 in Tokyo’s eclectic electronics district, and offers its patrons a safe haven where they can snuggle with a beautiful woman with no salacious strings attached.
Prices vary based on time, the cheapest option being 3,000 yen (roughly thirty US dollars), for twenty minutes, going up to 50,000 yen (roughly 512 US dollars) for a whopping ten hours of sex-free spooning. What’s most interesting is that the café has various prices for extra options, such as being pat on the back, having the customer and girl stare at each other, and (the most expensive option) having the girl sleep with her head on the customer’s lap.