"I thought this was actually going to be a business call," says Douglas Hines when Discovery News Tech called him late last week. You'll have to forgive the TrueCompanion founder for being a bit absent-minded. After all, Hines caused an uproar of disbelief and excitement in January when he unveiled Roxxxy, "the world's first sex robot," at the Las Vegas' Adult Entertainment Expo.
The robot boasts artificial intelligence, speech recognition technology and a bevy of recorded phrases, making it able to, on some levels, converse with her mate. She also has a personality-changer, an Internet connection to receive software and dialog updates, all for a price between $7,000 to $9,000.
With pre-orders of his invention reaching above 4,000 and a host of media attention in his corner, Hines took a break from his business calls to speak with Discovery News Tech about the robot's origins and his expectations for the project.
Douglas Hines: We came up with the concept of using a robot to help care for -- not to replace a nurse -- but help people who need extra care at home: invalids, Alzheimer's patients, etc. It might not be cost-effective or practical to have a nurse full-time with the patient. But the robot would allow interaction with the patient as well as the technology to connect remotely and talk and care as needed. Because Medicare wouldn't reimburse for the cost of it and because of concerns from a liability and insurance standpoint, we tabled that idea for the time being. But that's actually catching on now too, so we're really excited about all the momentum that's being developed.
DH: It was through necessity and opportunity. We have lots of patents around this technology and trade secrets. We'd also invested a large amount of time, energy and money. We basically looked for another marketplace for the product. We looked for opportunities with areas that needed a niche or were lacking innovation or real development, and we saw this as an opportunity to really stand out. There hasn't been much innovation in the adult arena. There was a real opportunity to apply this technology into a new industry and breathe a lot of new life into it and create opportunity and a lot of added value.
DH: It was just myself back in 1993, when I developed a prototype using similar technology. But since 2000, this has been an ongoing project. The past three years have been focused on the adult community. It's been a long road of refining.
DH: Not at all. But we'd done a tremendous amount of market research beforehand. We like to take calculated risks and not blind risks. We knew she would be received well. We spoke to two of the largest adult entertainment companies and knew this would be very big. We knew there was a market need and there was a niche we could fulfill, so we were excited. But we had no idea it would be so big, especially with [the Consumer Electronics Show] down the street. It was pleasurable to be able to talk to the technical people and other engineers. We had a lot of people come over from CES to see Roxxxy.
DH: Everything is custom, so it could take two to three months depending on the specifications. We can customize hair color, skin type, breast size and other things. We have people requesting very custom orders. We're working off of photos and video to reproduce the likeness of a woman for one project. We're also speaking with one of the entertainment outlets to do a specialized robot for them. But for typical ones, two to three months is the time line.
DH: We have a company in India that's the software side. Most of the tech stuff happens in India. Manufacturing happens in the U.S
DH: The artificial intelligence is the underpinning of the whole project. I've done a lot of artificial intelligence research, and one of the primary patents around that technology is information matching. Everyone's familiar with these dating services where you fill out a questionnaire and everyone says the same thing, like they like to walk on the beach. We developed data mining based on what your interests are. There's a very large form customers fill out: what your interests are, what your likes and dislikes are. That form is used to generate the personality for Roxxxy that matches yours. That's one of the most unique parts of it. The robotics is great, but the artificial intelligence by itself, which was carried over from the healthcare model, is a significant portion of the project.
DH: That came out of testing. We have a very large group of testers that have a variety of interests. We don't want to pigeonhole people, but people fell into a few different categories. We want the audience to be able to interact with Roxxxy without having to worry about the ins and out, and we want them to be able to do that without worrying about the different personalities. What we came up with is a template of different personality profiles. Those are actual profiles that are stored as catchy names, but reflect people who are shy [Frigid Farrah], naive [Young Yoko], wild [Wild Wendy], experienced [Mature Martha] and adventurous [S&M Susan]. You just need to tell Roxxxy to use that personality and she'll react accordingly. Roxxxy will always have her original, out-of-the-box personality and the five other built-in options, but people have the ability to create and modify their own online.
DH: Well, we did have a death threat. I don't like to talk about it, but we had someone who was going to "take care" of us and this new product at the trade show. My wife was more concerned than I was. But anytime anything new is introduced that's a major step in a new direction, people are intimidated. I understand that. That's the only backlash. It's so new and so exciting that it's going to take time for it to be adopted and mainstream. I definitely think it will be mainstream. This will be the future of robotics. It's going to take time for people to understand it. It's part of the process we need to do, to explain how this works to people so they're not intimidated.