Missing your man in Madrid? Forlorn over your fianceé in Florence? The Kissenger, a new robot companion machine for the iPhone, may be just the ticket. Emma Yann Zhang, the Ph.D. student behind the device, gave a demonstration of a prototype at London’s Love and Sex With Robots conference earlier this month, and it could eventually emerge as part of a future sex robot.

The Kissenger looks like some sort of giant speaker jutting out of the bottom of your iPhone. The prototype model plugs into the audio jack of an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. iPhone 7 users may struggle with the Kissenger, as the device dropped the headphone jack to require users to listen through a special adapter bundled with every phone.

The machine uses high precision force sensors to determine how parts of your lips press against the device. That data is recorded through an iOS app. When the user places a call through Skype or FaceTime and presses their lips, that data is recorded and transmitted in real-time to the recipient.

Zhang is planning to conduct future tests to assess the device’s “hedonistic” applications, exploring uses in companion robots. However, her paper notes that “this research will not attempt to conclude whether it is ethically acceptable to have intimate relationships with robots.”

Sex robots are an area fraught with competing visions, but one that’s slowly developing as a potential product over the next few years. Initial versions provide realistic-feeling skin, but future iterations may use advanced A.I. to simulate emotional attachment. The Kissenger could play a key role.

story continues below

Experts argue over whether attachment to companion robots is a good thing. The British Standards Institute’s first guide to A.I. ethics warns developers to consider the ethical implications of creating bots designed for humans to grow attached to, an issue particularly when the machine breaks in the future or if the manufacturer retains control. Zhang has not yet committed herself to implementing the device in a future sex robot, but it’s possible the Kissenger eventually breaks past its iPhone beginnings.

Photos via Kissenger