Alan Martin

Was deputy editor on Alphr, now a tech and politics freelancer.

Jan 11, 2019
Published on: The Inquirer
1 min read
Sex toy wins CES robotics award, then has it taken away in ridiculous moral panic
Well said, Helen

ALL THIS WEEK, we've been covering the latest from CES in Las Vegas. But there was one product we weren't allowed to see.

Lori DiCarlo's Osé "personal massager" (spoiler: it isn't for your shoulders) was initially due to be seen on the show floor (at a booth, not just rolling around), but was banned for being "immoral, obscene, indecent, profane, or not keeping with" CES' image.

Awkwardly, the Osé not only managed to slip through the initial showcasing application phase, but also managed to pass unnoticed by CES' own team of judges, who gave the Osé the coveted "Robotics Innovation Award".

But a month later the award was rescinded with the obscenity clause in the rulebook used against Lori DiCarlo - presumably when one of the judges Googled the product, and realised it wasn't a novelty vibrating paperweight after all.

Reminder: we're in 2019, not 1719.

But even if you are of the opinion that the Osé is an immoral product - it does, after all, promise to deliver "the holy grail of orgasms" (again: it's not for your shoulders) - the elephant in the room is the enormous hypocrisy on display.

As Lora Haddock, Lora DiCarlo's CEO and founder wrote in a blog post explaining the company's shabby treatment, a sex robot for men was showcased at last year's event, and you can happily watch VR porn from the discomfort of the show floor, rather than the comfort of your hotel room, should you wish.

"This double standard makes it clear that women's sexuality is not worthy of innovation," Haddock writes. "It seems the CTA [Consumer Technology Association - the owners of CES] is just fine with "female-oriented" products like breast pumps, Kegel exercisers, and even robotic vacuums - things that also benefit someone else - but something that squarely focuses on women's sexuality is off the table."

To add insult to injury, after being stripped of an award and banned, Lora DiCarlo was sent a letter saying it was actually ineligible for the Robotics and Drone category of award anyway.

"Seriously? Our product that was designed in partnership with a top university robotics engineering laboratory (Oregon State University has ranked the #4 ranked Robotics Lab in the US), inspiring the genesis of OSU Professor John Parmigiani's Prototype Development Lab," Haddock writes. "Osé is the subject of eight pending patents and counting for robotics, biomimicry, and engineering feats."

Considered eligible for the award in Osé's absence: vacuum cleaners, a skateboard, children's toys and a shopping companion robot.

This controversy might do Lora DiCarlo the world of good in the end - and Haddock's #CESGenderBias campaign certainly seems to be gaining some traction on Twitter. But in quite a dry year for CES innovation, whether or not you want a robot anywhere near your bits, it's a pity that a genuinely innovative product has been forced to heckle from the sidelines. µ