In this Wired article I delve deeply into new technology that promises to bring a whole new kind of enjoyment to reading.
French entrepreneur Christel Le Coq brings us “The Little Bird” Sex Toy which links to an app and electronic texts via bluetooth to provide sensory stimulation to enhance the experience. “Où est la bibliothèque?” will never sound boring again…As the story unfolds, the device vibrates accordingly, so that in steamier moments the rhythm ramps up but the user can also replay a sequence or adjust the vibrations according to their mood Click To Tweet
Besides erotic and racy novels, reading and sex rarely go hand-in-hand. Little Bird wants to change that.
Christel Le Coq – and yes, that’s her real name – is CEO and Founder of E.Sensory. She could perhaps be best described as an up-and-coming “sexpreneur” and her small start-up based in the French town of Brest – again, no joke – looks set to take our enjoyment of reading to a whole new level.
The firm has just officially launched the Little Bird, a smart sex toy which links with your tablet or smartphone via Bluetooth. As you read, this teledildonics gadget translates the story, gestures and on-screen touches into stimulation, but in a much more nuanced and customisable way than your average vibrator.
“I love literature, and erotic literature, but I also love technology. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to combine power of words and the potential of connected devices. Inherently, erotic literature is what gives more sensations, and I like the idea of giving women a new way of reading and of having fun. It speaks to our first sensorial organ: the brain. With this innovative love-toy, words become caresses, literature turns into a true sensorial experience and the body becomes a part of the story!”
The Little Bird hardware is a friendly-looking gadget that comes in colours such as “Mojito Green” and wouldn’t look entirely out of place in an Apple shop. It links to the companion app via Bluetooth, and once you download it and make yourself comfortable, all that’s left to do is select an erotic text from the vibration library and start reading. Audiobook versions are also available.The Little Bird hardware is a friendly-looking gadget that comes in colours such as Mojito Green and wouldn’t look out of place in an Apple shop Click To Tweet
As the story unfolds, the device vibrates accordingly, so that in steamier moments the rhythm ramps up but the user can also replay a sequence or adjust the vibrations according to their mood.
But what if you want to use it with your own favourite eBook?
“That’s a bit different,” explained Le Coq. “Each woman reads at her own speed, and at the moment we can’t use eye tracking or page turning features to detect this, since they vary according to screen size. So instead we put in some interactive elements such as text blurring, so that you have to touch the screen to reveal the paragraph, and that then triggers vibrations that go with that part of the story.”
Or if you’re not in the mood for reading, you can just play around with the remote and enjoy the 10 different settings. The next version of the app will also have features that allow for a vibrating message service, and the ability to give control of the device to a partner over both short and long distances.
But how exactly does one end up designing sex toys for a living? Le coq told us me it all came from an early love of books: “When I was six, something fantastic happened to me: I learned to read. At that moment my life changed, because I understood I would never be bored again. To me, reading meant knowledge, independence, and freedom. I remember reading this book called The Parfum by Patrick Suskind, and when he described the violet fragrance, I actually smelt it. That’s when I realised that words, had this power to not only make you cry, dream and laugh, but also to physically awaken your senses.”
It was only natural, then, for her to find herself working in publishing, where she started experimenting with new technologies such as QR codes, image recognition and even augmented reality to enhance the experience for readers. However, the French are nothing if not romantic, so it wasn’t an easy sell to convince them to read in those digital formats. The feel, touch and even the smell of the paper form part of the enjoyment, so how can a sterile tablet or smartphone ever hope to compete with that tactile, sensual experience?
“I began to ask myself how I could enhance the digital experience, and give this content a real physical dimension? How could we transform emotions into sensations?” Le Coq continued.
To develop these ideas she started her own company and soon landed on the concept of using erotic literature to showcase the potential of this new medium. Getting funding for the idea was far from easy, however, especially for a female entrepreneur.
“It’s the reason why I became a feminist entrepreneur,” she laughs. “In France I had to fight my way through, but in the US they know that the erotic market is huge, so we can just speak about business.”
Female masturbation is definitely still taboo no matter how many episodes of Sex and the City we watch, she feels. “Men, particularly in France, still want to believe that women are unable to reach pleasure and sexual satisfaction without them. They can’t admit that it’s exactly like male masturbation, which is – and this goes for both men and women – a very different pleasure to having sex with someone.”If you’re not in the mood for reading, you can just play around with the remote and enjoy the 10 different settings Click To Tweet
She stresses that the potential for technology to enhance reading goes far beyond just adult content, however. While the B.Sensory side of her business will continue to develop the erotic literature and teledildonics products, the E.Sensory parent company is already exploring partnerships with Amazon’s Audible to develop audio-sensorial reading. She also has ideas around integrating music, video, and VR technology to create truly immersive reading experiences.
The team is also working with Spanish Research Centre Eurecat to explore how smart textiles could push this interactivity even further by collecting data such as heart rate and body temperature from users and reacting accordingly.
“We’re defining a palette of digital sensations – heat, pressure, vibrations – we could convey through those garments,” said Le Coq. “Just imagine if, with the same connected piece of clothing you could feel the rhythm of your favourite song on Spotify, James Bond’s heartbeat as you watch a movie, or the warmth of a fire as you read a passage of a book on your Kindle.”
The possibilities are literally titillating.
All the hard work does seem to be paying off, as B.Sensory were awarded the CES 2016 Innovation Award and by January already had pre-orders from more than twenty different countries. Le Coq is excited about building a global community of readers in many different languages (versions and content in Portuguese, German, Spanish and Italian are planned to launch in coming months) as the first batch of Little Birds start flying out to their eager customers this week.
You can place your own order on the site now for $129, and users won’t have long to wait for an English version of the app, though, which is set to launch next month, with a library of content to follow in November. In the meantime, this could be a really good excuse to brush up on those rusty French skills. Sure puts a new spin on “où est la bibliothèque?”
An earlier ad for The Little Bird quipped that: “One Swallow Doesn’t Make a Summer, but a Little Bird Does.” Innuendos aside though, this could start a feminist revolution in publishing and tech, and make our holiday reading a whole lot more interesting in the process.Sure puts a new spin on où est la bibliothèque Click To Tweet
This story was originally published in Wired
— Wired UK (@WiredUK) July 22, 2016
Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio and @techtrends_tech on Twitter.