The condom has hardly changed in a hundred years, which is pretty ridiculous if you consider how few people actually like the damn things. A lot of people, in fact, are so unhappy with the timeworn rubber, they eschew using it at all—a problem a couple of researchers out of Georgia Tech think can be solved with electronics.
Fraz Peer and Andrew Quitmeyer created a prototype of an open source, digital condom that's literally wired with electrodes along the side of the sleeve and hooked up to a microcontroller for power. The device creates electrical impulses along the shaft to mimic the pleasurable sensation that is dulled by traditional condoms. It's called, somewhat horrifically, the Electric Eel.
The researchers bravely tested the sex gadget on themselves, as well as others, and apparently people found the resulting sensation to be "pleasurable, comforting, and exciting"—which I can only assume was after the initial terror and awkwardness of getting your manhood mildly electrocuted.
Peer and Quitmeyer created two DIY versions of the Eel, one that's a rolled out existing condom rigged up with electrodes and the other that's basically a conductive sock. The attached LilyPad Arduino microcontroller can receive various inputs in command, so these guys strapped it to a chest harness and programmed it to sense your partner's breath and time the electric pulses to that rhythm.
It may sound crazy, and it's certainly in early stages, but these guys are serious about creating the next-gen prophylactic. They're looking to raise $10,000 on Indiegogo and have launched a related enterprise called commingle.io to develop more open-source sex tech.
The idea is to enhance sexual arousal through computing. I.e.: hacking sex toys. "Our ultimate goal will be to provide a arena for people to find and share new designs and kits for hacking existing devices or building their own," explains the website, to develop "novel, embodied means of interaction, new modes of stimulation, and methods for safely building and modding sex toys yourself."
Of course, they're not the only ones trying to reinvent the rubber. The Gates Foundation famously held a Grand Challenge to invent the "Next Generation of Condom," and awarded grant money to 13 finalists last November to develop their projects. The goal was the same: find a way to make condoms more pleasurable and easier to wear, so they don't numb the feeling and wreck the mood.
"The primary drawback from the male perspective (editor's note: it's not just men) is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a trade-off that many men find unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made just prior to intercourse," the challenge announcement states.
Most of the Foundation projects are tackling this problem with thinner, stronger materials: polyurethane, nanomaterials like graphene, and a dubious design made from cow tendons. Another design, called the "Rapidom," is a device that pulls the condom on in one slick and easy motion. So, we have those innovations to look forward to, in case the Electric Eel never makes it to sex-shop shelves.