Andrew Quitmeyer is a busy man. He meets me over Skype in a bright and chatty mood, but he *does* look tired. Who can blame him? As co-founder of Comingle, Andrew is currently dealing with the recently published crowd-funding campaign for Comingle’s innovative Mod. He’s also the type who is not satisfied unless he’s beavering away on some trinket or other.
In fact, within twenty seconds of our cursory pleasantries, Andrew is telling me how he stayed up the night before working on a headband that, mixed with the Dilduino, another of Comingle’s products, can create flashing, hallucinatory images. It’s just a small example of the passion and dedicated Andrew and his colleagues pump into their projects. It’s infectious and exciting to see the SexTech sphere induct yet another versatile and vibrant set of minds. Since our discussion, the project appears to have quickly moved on:
Let’s talk about what the Mod can do. Or rather, it might be quicker to list the things that it can’t do.
The Mod is the award-winning SexTech innovation that has plenty of people talking. It’s the customizable vibrator that can be controlled by anything. It’s a Multivibrating Open-source Dildo, and there’s a name not a lot of people thought they’d ever see in their lifetime.
The user can create their own patterns as influenced by millions of variables as well as bring sensors and controllers into the mix. It’s a toy, a pet, a pleasure device, even a source of coding hijinks for those in the deeper channels.
The hours of hard work, research and application shown by Comingle appear to be paying off. Since launching their campaign, and at the time of writing, the company has secured just under $18,000 in donations. With a little over three weeks left to achieve the $50,000 target, Andrew is confident the early flourish is a good omen.
“Primarily the funds will be used for distribution of the product. Everything we make is 100% free to everyone. We make everything by hand right now, as silicone is a very tricky material to work with especially if you want to embed electronics into it.
“So that’s what we’re looking to get the capital for now – to make the product more freely available.
”In terms of the target, I think we’re definitely on track. We’re gonna be doing more things to draw people’s attention: interviews, other tie-ins. It should be great.”
But he expresses surprise at the amounts acquired so far. He and the rest of the team had some idea that support would be forthcoming. But to this scale?
“We had ideas all over the place but no clear sense of how exactly any of this would play out.”
Andrew states that Comingle’s initial struggle to identify a specific demographic to aim their product at may have been one of the key factors behind the first surges of the crowd funding campaign. The Mod’s flexibility, versatility and usefulness appeals across the spectrum. Put it this way: if you’re interested in this sort of thing, you’re going to want it.
“We’ve had a lot of people from the gay male audience, single women… it’s been a very diverse crew of people who have chosen to back us. But they’ve all been a part of this great upheaval that appears to have taken place.
“But you never know which way it will turn. Yesterday we had a big flood of money from Scandinavia. It keeps bouncing around the internet and getting more interest.”
As per the norm, Comingle faced difficulties in planting their flag as a SexTech start up. Being forced to chase after companies to make sure it’s ‘alright’ to sell sex products is not only exhausting, but probably a little humiliating too. Having to do laps while everybody else takes a turn with the gun is a race most other industries and sectors don’t have to run. For SexTech startups like Comingle, it just sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare.
“Once you make sex a part of your business or idea, there are a lot of avenues that will just suddenly close to you. We were a little more prepared for that thanks to a conference I’d been to a couple of years ago, where I saw a panel talking about how hard it was to get started. There are credit card payment processors who won’t even touch anything related to sex. We’ve had to triple-check with PayPal to tell them ‘so you’re OK with us selling sex toys, right?’ but then we’ve had people getting their accounts suspended for trading with us and then that has to be sorted out. Then there’s services like Mail Chimp, again another company who won’t go near sex as their ratings will drop once their spam filters flare up. We’ve had to check with our bank to make sure we can work with them.”
All ideas need a genesis. Or an origin story, if you’ll forgive a Christopher Nolan moment.
“It was the culmination of a lot of different factors. Most of the founders, myself included, were just computer engineers at Georgia Tech, but we’re all involved in multiple other projects. Some are involved with engineering in arts, humanities. I do jungle research, where I work with communities of scientists in remote places. Working with those guys was where one the sparks came together for me. We’d be out there, using sensors for monitoring animals… machines designed with durability for a more visceral purpose.”
Despite the tools already being in place, it was a bizarre chance encounter that really set things in motion.
“A scientist came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, you have all these great tools, you know… there’s other needs scientists out in the wild may have so… do you think we can design a dildo?’… and I’m like, ‘Yeah! I think we could!’
“I think the thing that really captured us was that it’s a really interesting challenge because (SexTech & customization is) not something that’s being dealt with enough because people in the main are shy about these things. But we’re not shy with people and we’re ready to take this challenge on.
“I was surprised by, once we’d made our product fully customizable, how many variations we would need to consider. For example, there might be someone who has a roommate and maybe wants to keep the noise down so would want a silent vibrator. There’s people with piercings; some want their vibrator to touch it, others don’t. The variety and working on them is just fascinating.
“It also bounces back and forth a lot between my work with Comingle and my jungle and animal work I do away from that. Maybe we need to create something water-proof, more durable and I’m like ‘Oh, I have this sex toy I made… ‘. So there’s a lot of cross-pollination between both sides.”
Sure it’s a brave new world, but not for all of us. Some people still look through the windows, like the proverbial kid outside the candy store, wanting to join in the fun but either lacking the capability or the confidence to do so. Simply put, can the seemingly complicated world of the Mod be picked up by newcomers and the curious?
“That was one of the biggest things we worked on for our design. Not just the shape of the toy, or the programs going into it, but designing it so any person can just get going immediately. We’re using this great thing called codebender which, instead of having to know and input the code properly yourself, let’s you use a YouTube-style embed system which basically does everything for you and tells you to press the big button and get playing! Now you can go, ‘I want it to match my heartbeat’ and there’s the program and it’s done. Or you want a wacky soundwave pattern, whatever. We’ve put a lot of thinking into how the average person can just get the Mod, take it out of the box and plug in and play. At the same time, intermediate to expert users, hackers in particular, can go as deep into it as they want. And if you really want, you can decide to learn programming through the Mod, and set yourself tasks and go from there.”
‘The Raspberry Pi of sex?’ I ask Andrew.
“That’s exactly what we were going for. That’s our goal. If you look at companies like Sparkfun and Adafruit are the types of companies we’re looking to model ourselves after. We want to provide this open set of resources so that elite hackers or basic hobbyists can get started and do what they want.”
The founders all grew up in what we could loosely call a hacking background. Or as Andrew puts it “we configured some technology to suit our own needs.”
The dream of Comingle and their associates is to create the most defined and interactive virtual and sexual utopia around. It may seem like a lofty ambition, but they’re well on the way. Their philosophy literally offers them no boundaries. If you perform enough trial and error, you get to the heart of the matter much quicker. If everybody’s playing open source, then the possibilities are endless.
I put to Andrew that the hacking backgrounds, the open-sourcing, the taboo (for mainstream purposes) products, the releasing of a technology upon the world with unreal potential. It’s all a bit cyberpunk, is it not? It’s neurological. Going past the body and into what Michael Moorcock and JG Ballard termed the innerspace. It’s an object fallen through a portal from a William Gibson landscape. The meshing of mind, body and digital soul like Olympic rings.
It’s a link Andrew both welcomes and agrees with.
“We’re totally happy with the comparison! A bunch of us grew up reading science fiction, all that cyberpunk stuff. The headband I told you about earlier… we named that Snow Crash after the Neal Stephenson book. So that’s definitely a vibe that we’re going for, and it’s a future we want to, where people are using all this strange technology but also have control over it and are allowed to sculpt the technology towards their own needs.”
And it’s a future that only bring benefits. What’s on offer is almost limitless potential. The embracing of all skill levels, all types of people, connection and adaptation to your environment. It’s the revolution, baby. You don’t just have to be single to be ready to Comingle.