He beams hopefully at the audience.
“Here we are!”
Unresponsive silence. There’s an awkward cough somewhere in the back rows. A potential investor, perhaps?
“Hello Sydney. My name is Victor, and I would like to share with you my passion – Exolover.”
Victor Ubugunov is a tall Siberian expat, 49, with salt-and-pepper hair above broad cheeks and a boyish grin. The founder and CEO of Exolover is pitching his ICO pre-sale at a blockchain industry conference. He presses on.
“This is no mistake. It’s a system for global sexual interaction – on the blockchain!”
Standing on stage beside the podium his coy introduction draws bashful smiles, predictable giggles, and sotto voce behind the palm. The mood lightens as he outlines his plan: to develop a decentralised social network that allows online lovers meet in a mutual reality, to share the sensations of physical intimacy via state-of-the-art, teledildonic exosuits.
In practical terms, Exolover is a lightweight, machine-washable swimsuit that can fuck you through the internet, hands-free.
This new and risqué science is responsible for the development of sex toys that are remotely controlled, usually by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. At CES 2018, OhMiBod power couple Suki and Brian Dunham said the company’s joint venture with Fleshlight, a “Fuse” dual-stem vibrator that connects to the “Launch” masturbator, would “bring remote sex to a new level”.
While no working Exolover suit exists yet, the conceptual design is certainly ambitious. The proposal to set up a social network on the blockchain is new enough, let alone one used to operate a hands-free, modular, teledildonic swimsuit. On top of that, digital fuckbuddies will be incentivised to “come again” in a game of chance and possibility of reward: the “winner” of each encounter is awarded most of the ExoTokens the two paid to tango on the blockchain in the first place. The rest go back to Exolover, with the whole transaction processed via smart contract.
In an era when we are just beginning to comprehend the extent to which social media can be habit-forming and addictive for some people, will Exolover’s member incentivisation strategy (in a way, a game of sexual Two-Up) drive a whole new kind of social media addiction?
Image: The Exolover bodysuit prototype | Ben Hagemann
Back to the start
Victor is a man who leaps at the opportunity for adventure. Seven years ago, he left Siberia, going on holiday with his wife and youngest child to Sydney’s sunny Bondi Beach. They haven’t lived a day in Russia since. Now, a grandfather, his whole family is here.
Eyes closing in blissful reflection, he explains the impulsive move: “We just loved it! I mean, I knew we were coming to see what life in Australia would be like, but we didn’t know we would stay.”
“Many people ask me, ‘Why Australia?’ But it’s obvious – Australia is the most stable, it’s the best country in the world!” Victor’s accent, thick and deliberate, is peppered with typical twists of the Slavic tongue, but the timbre of his voice is soft and eloquent as he recalls another life.
“When I was growing up, I had many ideas, to be a soldier, a policeman, a cosmonaut, but mostly I just wanted some kind of adventure.”
Compulsory national service in the Soviet military as a radio operator offered two things: an opportunity to travel around Russia’s incomprehensibly huge landmass, and Morse code (“Like bicycle, you never forget”). It was shortly after completing his service to the USSR that something very odd happened – it collapsed.
“Many people were getting a lot of money, mortgages, opportunity for business. The country was open, and everything was… it was the Wild, Wild West!” But apparently not everyone could handle the intoxicating new social liberty. “When the Russian people get more freedom, they become wild, there’s some terrible things...” In 1991, Victor joined the police, so for nine years, Sergeant Ubugunov of the Russian Federation would keep the peace for Mother Russia while she went on the rebound from her messy second divorce.
But it couldn’t last. Victor’s aspirations turned to running his own business. “In the police, you need to be specially-minded… it hurts your soul. Every time you see or hear some horrible thing – and it’s a lot of times – it’s not good; it doesn’t affect you very well.
Today we’re back at the ICC, but in very different company from last month’s blockchain conference. For those who have never seen a Sexpo before, the world’s first sex industry trade show is the manifestation of modern-day libertinism (if $10 double-ended dildos and silicon eggs are how the kids are getting their kicks). Cosplaying nymphomaniacs by the entrance do their best to struggle through waves of TedX visitors, who strangely enough, are also at the ICC today.
At the Exolover booth, Victor is joined by his right-hand man and COO, Joshua Scott Bird. A mannikin wearing a representation of the Exolover suit slowly rotates behind them. It’s a strappy white number (think Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element) accented with glowing blue LED strips beneath the fabric, to represent the haptic feedback units that will hug, grope, and maybe even nibble the wearer.
Victor’s new audience of randy punters are less bashful than the blockchain crowd, but despite the earlier lukewarm response, Victor reports Exolover’s pre-ICO (Initial Coin Offering) sale has achieved the soft-cap target of US$500,000.
To help spread the love, Victor and Josh are giving away vouchers for 1,000 free units of their cryptocurrency, Exotoken (EXO), an ERC-20 utility token that Exolover customers will use to pay for their virtual hook-ups. Victor insists this won’t devalue the tokens owned by investors who have already funded the soft cap. But the tokens are not shares in the business – they merely entitle the bearer to free rides on the Exolover fuck-train.
The vibration conundrum
Image: Exolover team | Courtesy of Exolover
With reference to the history of vibrators, which were originally used to treat the feminine malady of ‘hysteria’, Victor asks, “Who decided they should vibrate anyway? Nothing vibrates when you’re having sex”. And Victor has a point. The sex toy industry now enjoys a built-for-purpose approach to the design of pleasurable sensations, with more features incorporated into products to diversify their function – reciprocating movement, dual stems for clitoral stimulation, and so forth – to meet the tastes of different women. But the traditional dominance of vibration continues.
A little down the way from the Exolover booth, independent VR porn director Michelle has made an interesting observation.
“I’ve been shooting for 10 years, mostly solo female masturbation. We try not to direct the performers. Our directive to the performers is do what you would normally do. They bring their own toys that they would normally use,” she says.
“I would say around 30 percent use a normal dildo with no vibrating function, around 20 percent use vibration, and 50 percent use hands alone.
“I’ve seen a lot of people masturbate, they’re solo, they’re alone, so why would they do anything but please themselves? Vibration is certainly a part of that.”
The Exolover whitepaper heralds a suite of modular products with jazzy names, under development at the Exolover Laboratories in China. Each of the modular add-ons is intended to bring a specific tactile dimension to the Exolover experience, which Victor claims will be the most advanced mechanical simulation of the human sex act ever devised.
“It will be completely hands-free. This is not masturbation; this is the transmission of real physical sensations,” Victor says. For example, haptic feedback units embedded in the fabric of the suit will mimic squeezing touches like hugging and groping. Reciprocating action will be favoured over vibration.
The design philosophy is to recreate the feeling of real sex acts with technology inspired by observable phenomena and designed from the ground up, rather taking the traditional approach of imitating the appearance and shape of male and female organs.
It’s hard to envision when the Exolover system doesn’t actually exist yet, but Victor says the first (non-functional) demonstration prototype will be ready by spring. Functioning units should be manufactured in time for road-testing by randomly selected members of the Exolover community, in Q1 2019. With a cheesy grin, Victor says he’ll be first to test the suit: someone has to make sure they’re safe.
Once up and running (sometime this year) the network will be designed for compatibility with an existing range of teledildonic toys, so a growing community of token owners can test the system in anticipation of the arrival of the first Exolover suits. Without a doubt, the system is an unconventional and ingenious proposal for the application of blockchain ‘tokenomics’, combined with an equally unique approach to artificial reproduction of sensation, and sensuality. Whether or not this blockchain business project is a success, observers of human sexual behaviour will be fascinated by the outcomes of Victor’s experiment in the brave new world of teledildonica.
Image: Founder Victor Ubugunov at Sexpo Sydney | Ben Hagemann