RealDolls add AI and VR to become companions

[Shades of Lars and the Real Girl, Ex Machina and other films: The founder of RealDoll has some intriguing things to say here about the future of presence interactions that go way beyond physical intimacy; the story is from PSFK and includes seven additional vivid images. –Matthew]

RealDoll head

Sex Dolls with Artificial Intelligence to Ease Your Loneliness (and Maybe Shoot You a Text)

We talked to RealDoll CEO Matt Mullen about the company’s latest project: making robotic sex dolls that talk, text, and email back

Laura Yan
8 July 2015

Abyss Creations, the company beyond Realdoll (life-sized, silicone sex dolls), wants to start making robotic sex dolls that talk back, flirt and interact with the customer. The project, called Realbotix, is the company’s first venture into the world of artificial intelligence. It involves an AI-powered animatronic head that can be fitted onto preexisting doll bodies, a pocket-pet doll accessible through an app and a version of the doll in virtual reality.

We spoke with CEO Matt McMullen about the company’s latest endeavor and how, with the help of AI, sex dolls can become more than just sex dolls—they can become companions.

What do you envision for the artificial intelligence driving Realbotix?

The idea is to create a fun entertaining illusion that a person is actually able to carry on conversations with their doll, and that the AI will be able to learn from those interactions.

What kind of conversations will she be able to have?

We’re really trying to focus on keeping it fun. I don’t know that we’re trying to create super deep, intellectual conversations so much as something that engages the person enough that they want to try it again, or see what she will say next.

Will the dolls have customizable personalities?

The dolls we’ve always made had a high level of customization to them, so each and every doll that we make is unique in that the customers have chosen all these different variables. The idea with the AI would be much the same: that the user would be able to choose areas of interest, and we will put those blocks together to create the basis for the AI.

For example (like on a dating site), if you’re into golf, traveling, and Europe, then you can choose those areas. Based on those choices, we can take blocks of knowledge and incorporate them into the foundation of the AI. When the person wants to talk about golf, then she would have some frame of reference and be able to have a discussion.

Will there be a baseline personality to start?

There will be a foundation for the beginning. Beyond that we want to give people the option to select things they’re interested in, and beyond that, specify what kind of personality they’re looking for, be it shy or outgoing.

Does interactivity make for a better sex doll?

We really look at this as much more than being just a sex doll. We’re looking at all the ways this could be used as a companion. The intimacy part of it is obviously very interesting, and a lot of people gravitate toward it. But the implications of what it could do is so much bigger.

For some of our customers, just having the dolls in their house makes them feel not as lonely as they did before. There are people out there that have dolls that they choose to make a permanent part of their being. They don’t want a real relationship with all the responsibility that comes along with it. Usually, for those kinds of people, it’s just an act of time. They’re going through a loss of a loved one or a divorce, and this is a diversion for them to take the edge off of the loneliness. Our hope is that it can be a device to help people get through some of those times.

Can you tell me more about the virtual reality component of this?

Basically there are three facets that all work independently from the others. One aspect is the robotic head that attaches to a doll. The second aspect is the app that runs on an Android device or computer, and the third aspect is the virtual reality.

The idea is that you can interact with the AI that we’ve created through your tablet, phone or your computer, or you could connect it through the doll and the doll would become a peripheral format experience or through the VR.

The VR is a technology that’s really exploding right now. You could put on VR headsets and surround sound and be in an environment that you’re not actually in, and talk to the AI that you’ve created. You’d be able to tailor-make that personality as well as the appearance of the virtual doll in that space.

The core of it all is creating this personality that you enjoy interacting with, and then the different options for how you interact with her.

How far along are you in development?

We have several working AI platforms we’re playing with. They’re fun to talk to and fun to experiment with, but at the same time you realize the limitations and how many hours and hours and hours are going to go into fine-tuning this. The goal is to create a basic AI, and then we’ll be able to take real world experiences from people using it and figure out where we need to improve and where we need to create more options.

We’re trying to create the simulation of a caring, intelligent being that can look out for you and even work in the sense of a personal assistant like Siri. It can remind you of things, it can connect to home automation features.

So you can tell your doll to turn on the heat when you get home, and she would respond in a more lifelike way.

Do you have a timeline for finishing the doll?

We’re looking at 2017 for having a working model completed.

Are you planning on making a full body interactive doll, as well?

That would be pending the reaction to the head. The cool thing about the robotic head is that anyone that has an existing doll body can attach the head to it, or they can even attach it to a bust. It could be in an office setting, where you just have this bust that talks to people. It could let you know that someone’s here. There are other ways of utilizing that. If this takes off, then we’ll definitely go forward with creating further robotics working from the neck down.

What do you envision as the ultimate, robotic RealDoll?

It could go any direction. It would be cool if technology and the pricing of the hardware was attainable within the next few years to create a fully animated robotic body. I think it would be great to have a doll that could move and express emotions with movement.

And then, there are so many things it could do beyond just being a sex robot. The AI would have access to the Internet, the ability to get information and give it back to you. It’ll have the ability to text message you or email you. I look at it, like, we’re building a robot that just so happens to incorporate sex.

How about male robot dolls?

Right now the prototypes are female. We do dabble in male dolls as well. If this starts to fall together and it’s working well, then we’ll probably look into doing a male version.

Could the Realbotix replace a human?

I don’t think it can replace a human any more than the standard dolls can. I think that it’s more of an alternative, and it’s in the end a form of entertainment.


(This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photos by Matt McMullen and Robert Benson.)


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