Kissenger featured on BBC World Service radio on 22 Dec 2016.
Listen to full program at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04m8sjn
Sending kisses long distance has become easier. In the past, people used written letters (maybe a woman left her lipstick imprint on an envelope sealed with a kiss). Then there were the sounds of kisses on the telephone, xoxo on emails, air-blown kisses on the internet, Skype and more. Now researchers have further developed new ways for people to communicate their affection and intimate feelings long distance in the digital age.
Developers at Lovbotics created the “Kissenger” system billed as “The World’s first mobile kiss messenger” which lets users press their lips into the soft lips of a cute little round device laden with sensors. When nested to a mobile phone with a special app, Kissenger transmits the pressure of their lips through a real-time data stream over the internet to a person far away who holds up their own little device to their face. A small module with the device even reproduces the sender’s scent (could be body odor or perfume) and the receiver—it is said— can even detect the sender’s chemical pheromones.
At the Goldsmiths University of London conference “Love and Sex With Robots” held December 19-20, 2016, one of Kissenger’s developers Emma Yann Zhang of the City University London demonstrated the kissing machine robot to audience members eager to try it for themselves. Said one kiss recipient, laughing, “I miss the wet feeling of a kiss.”
Zhang said she and other developers (at Japanese and Malaysian universities) aim to someday implant Kissenger in a robotic head made of silicone or in a humanoid robot like Anita, the character in the popular British/American television series Humans. She mused that Kissenger could also be useful for online dating if a woman wanted to detect if a man was a good kisser before she even met him (Zhang felt this factor was especially important to women).
The conference also yielded some other gadgets for communicating affection long distance. Teletongue, a project being developed at Keio University in Japan, lets users lick what looks like a human ear (made using 3D modeling) which has an embedded microphone and sensors. The sound of their licking—and the vibrations—are transmitted through a computer to a friend who holds a “lollipop” device. The developers, including Daisuke Yukita, say the device is a “natural way of enhancing and enjoying intimate relationships.”
These devices with their promise of virtual affection fit right in with the idea of sex robots (sex robots with artificial intelligence aren’t ready yet but are slated for production by California’s RealDoll, Abyss Creations sometime in 2017). Whether virtual kisses and digital licks are a good substitute for the real thing—-now that can be debated, but they certainly look like fun.
ROWAN PELLING | 21 DECEMBER 2016 • 8:49PM
Nothing says Christmas like a conference called “Love and Sex with Robots”. While many spent the week contemplating the birth of a baby two millennia ago, Goldsmiths University played host to the second international congress on congress with machines. One of the team said drily that it was great to see such a large number of journalists at a specialist academic gathering.
I can’t have been the only person to have shifted guiltily in my lecture theatre seat. There’s no doubt the topics under discussion were fascinating for anyone familiar with Blade Runner, Westworld, Humans and even Austin Powers, where human attraction to robots is a key theme. A study cited by one of the speakers reported that around 40 per cent of men would happily purchase a sex robot given half a chance.
At this point an American colleague looked up TrueCompanion.com (“The World’s First Sex Robot”) on her mobile and showed me a 10-grand example of their wares, who bore a startling resemblance to Melania Trump. Then Emma Yann Zhang, a computer science PhD student, took to the floor to demonstrate her “Kissinger” device, which transmits simulated lip-on-lip pressure to loved ones via a mobile phone app. You rather wonder what the not-entirely-peacenik Henry K makes of his smooching namesake.
The conference nicked its name from tech whizz and international chess master David Levy’s 2007 best-selling book, Love and Sex with Robots. Levy said it was now a certainty that humans would be marrying automata (“enormously appealing partners for some people”) by 2050. Before you scoff, think of the emotions most of us regularly display towards our smartphones: panic, despair and a sense of hopelessness sweep over me if I’m parted from mine for more than an hour. In fact, it’s fair to say I’d rather lose my husband for a week than my iPhone. Add to this Levy’s assessment that, unlike tricky old humans, “Your robot will be protective, loving, trusting, truthful, persevering, respectful, uncomplaining, complimentary, pleasant to talk to and share your sense of your humour,” and you may start to see the appeal of a robot spouse.
Or, at least, I could very much understand the appeal to certain men – including those who waxed lyrical about robot brides at the conference. (Dr Kate Devlin, by contrast, who organised the conference, made it clear her preferred sexbot wouldn’t take human form – unless it could look like Peter Capaldi – and would be more of a sensory aid). The words “simpler” and “easier” cropped up a lot and it was hard to disagree that making love to a robot would prove far less demanding than courting a troublesome flesh-and-blood woman. Two of the key speakers at the conference told me afterwards that they would rather have sex with a robot than their ex-wives. And indeed the central joke of the recent movie Her is that a certain sort of divorced, nerdy male might well fall in love with a sultry-voiced operating system, rather than face rejection again.
Key to all this is the desire to be chosen. We want the elusive beloved to say of their own free will “Yes, it is you I want,” against all our previous expectation. This is the miracle most of us seek – not a pre-programmed machine. Indeed, when you consider the perverse and somewhat torturous nature of human longing, the best question (as posed by one woman at the conference) is: why would a robot want to marry a human?
Sometimes making “mwah” noises or texting lots of Xs isn’t enough. You want to give the person at the other end of the phone line a big old smooch.
Soon you may be able to. Researchers from London, Malaysia and Japan have created the “Kissenger”, which connects to your mobile phone and lets you physically lock lips from afar.
The device, which is named for kiss-messenger rather than after the US diplomat, connects to the bottom of your smartphone so that the rubber lip pad sits underneath the screen, where you can display a live video link of your loved one’s face.
High-precision force sensors are embedded under the lip pad to measure different parts of your lips during a kiss. The device sends this data to your phone. It is then transmitted to your partner’s phone, where small pistons embedded in the kiss-pad reproduce your mouth movements.
Emma Yann Zhang, a PhD researcher at City University, London, said: “Regular physical contact is essential for maintaining intimacy. We developed Kissenger with the aim of enabling remote intimate physical interactions.”
Fans of the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory may think this is pretty much the kissing-machine invented by Howard on the show, only more portable and without the tongue. Early prototypes of the gadget did incorporate a bar on the kiss pad that resembled the tip of a tongue. However, Ms Zhang said: “People thought it was a bit gross.”
The device, which is still a prototype, was presented by Ms Zhang at the “Love and Sex with Robots” conference at Goldsmiths, University of London.
If you can’t be with your loved ones this holiday season, perhaps you’ve told them that you’re sending a kiss. But if you could really do just that—send a kiss by smashing your lips against a rubber pad that’s attached to your smartphone—would you want to?
The Kissenger (so named because it’s a “mobile kiss messanger”) could give you that awkward option. The two-way device, which allows users to simultaneously send and receive the sensation of a kiss, comes from researchers in London who work on haptics, the science of touch. Emma Yann Zhang says her kissing machine is intended to overcome problems inherent in long-distance relationships. The Kissenger, she wrote in a recent paper, provides “effective communication of deep emotions and intimacy through a multisensory internet communication experience.”
For that intimate internet-enabled smooch, the two users insert their iPhones into their plastic Kissenger devices and place a video call via FaceTime or Skype. When the time feels right for a kiss, both users press their lips against silicone pads containing force sensors. The data representing the pressure pattern of each user’s lips is transmitted in real time to the other user’s unit, where actuators beneath the rubbery surface push upward to roughly reproduce that pattern.
Zhang imagines the Kissenger being used not only by long-distance lovers, but also by family members. If grandma held her unit to her cheek, for example, a grandkid could plant a kiss there.
Kissenger could also find less… traditional applications. The gadget got a burst of publicity this week when Zhang presented her device at a conference about love and sex with robots. She thinks it’s inevitable that humans will form intimate relationships with artificial intelligences and robots, and she’s wondering how those relationships would be changed if the two entities could share a kiss. However, she noted in a recent report on her project, “this research will not attempt to conclude whether it is ethically acceptable to have intimate relationships with robots.”
Her upcoming experiments with the Kissenger will provide some interesting data, however. Now that she has a working prototype, Zhang is planning lab tests to assess both its practical and “hedonistic” aspects. In one test, pairs of humans with existing relationships will try out the device and rate its usability and how much pleasure they derived from the experience. The researchers will also record physiological data like blood pressure and heart rate to see if remote kisses affect bodily systems in the same way that real kisses do.
And then there’s the Turing test for kissing. In this experiment, each subject will use the Kissenger to send and receive kisses from two anonymous individuals, and will again be asked to rate their feelings of pleasure and empathy for their partners. But the test subjects won’t know that one of those partners was just a computer program simulating the pressure patterns of a human kiss. Will they be able to tell the difference?
The Kissenger is Zhang’s PhD project—she’s currently working in the City University London lab of Adrian Cheok, a trailblazer in weird sensory technologies. Five years ago, IEEE Spectrum described the little haptic jacket he invented that enabled him to hug chickens.
The Kissenger is a physical gadget that connects to your phone so you can lip-lock across the planet
Lovers separated by distance can see and talk to each other using the internet – but what about sharing a smooch?
The Kissenger is a gadget that’s been knocking around university research labs for the last few years and aims to let couple kiss each other through the internet.
It’s a brightly-coloured smartphone holster with an inviting plastic pad attached to the bottom. You lock lips with the pad and it transmits the sensation through to an identical holster and an identical pad that’s nestling your partner’s phone wherever that may be.
“Kissing is the most direct and universal expression of intimacy and affection,” explained Emma Yann Zhang, who worked on the prototype.
“It’s a way for us to bond and maintain intimacy in our relationships,” she told an audience at the Love and Sex with Robots congress as Goldsmiths, University of London.
“Also, it’s stress reducing; when we engage in this kind of intimate physical touch, we have a lower level of blood pressure.”
The Kissenger works with pressure sensors and actuators that record and transmit the your kiss to the receiving device, which recreates it for the person on the other end through an app that also features videocalling.
— Vin Sharma📚🎥📸📻💻 (@vinsharma) December 19, 2016
But the creators insist that it’s already helping to get people accustomed to machine-based touching. And, moreover, that it’s not being used in an overtly sexual way.
Zhang explained that the next stage of the Kissenger is to build scent into the prototype. So you can get the authentic smell of the person you want to kiss.