Prelude to an Iteration

Well, this certainly isn't something I've ever gotten to do before.

Usually, toys go to market, I write something about them, and they either stick around and never see another iteration (like most of the audio toys), or slowly fade from view until they disappear (like the Talking Head vibrator).

However, it looks like Segment's Virtual Hole actually has been released in Japan, along with a ton of information about the business model, toy designs, and plans for the future. I first saw the virtual hole back in 2007, and the company even gave me a prototype to show.

While I talked about the toy at conferences quite a bit, I never did get around to doing a full writeup on what was available with it. So, now that there's a new site out, I figure now is as good a time as any to see where Segment has gone with this design in the past 2 years.

Where They Were - March 2007

So, a quick recap. The Virtual Hole first started showing up on the radar after AEE2007. It got a massive amount of blog time at this point, as can be seen by way of this Gizmodo article

The Old Virtual Hole image via gizmodo

Thanks to the wonderful people at the unfortunately defunct X-Rated Patents blog, I managed to get a meeting with the company behind the product. They even agreed to give me one of the very few prototypes they had at the time!

qDot avec virtual hole

So, in lieu of writing up all of the features of the toy here, I'm just going to include a video of a talk I gave in fall 2007 that features the Virtual Hole. Wind about 2:20 in.

But, a really quick overview for those of you that are reading this on non-video enabled plaforms:

  • The Virtual Hole is basically a latex tube with 7 vibration motors molded into it, 2 down each of 3 sides, one at the top.
  • Each motor is individually addressable by software over USB.
  • The toy was made to synchronize with movies, so that as actors in the movie moved, the toy would simulate their movements by way of setting the motor speeds in the tube to correspond. Think of it like trying to simulate sliding friction by way of vibration.

Now, there were a couple of pretty serious design flaws at the time. Mainly

  • Cleaning. The virtual hole came with what might as well have been called a turkey baster. It was a little squeezy thing you could put soap and water in to squirt in the tube. Even so, there was no way to completely remove the tube from its casing and actually clean it. Not good.
  • Holes, when attached to people, don't usually vibrate. It's am interesting way to try and approximate the feeling of thrusting, but in the end, it just didn't work. There's not enough variation in vibration, versus the friction you're used to feeling in that situation, to make it work.

After this, the company pretty much just disappeared as far as I was concerned. No press, no updates to their website, and no one I talked to in Japan had heard much from them.

A Light on the Horizon - January 2009

AEE2009 rolls around, and all of the sudden, a redesign!

The New Virtual Hole image via gizmodo

The virtual hole came back out of nowhere to surprise us. This time, it's got a nice new design, looking all sleek and... like a really futuristic anime bowling pin?

The New Virtual Hole image via gizmodo

The box had also gone from a little black 'I got it at radio shack' affair to something that looks fitting for a modern video game system.

However, there wasn't much news in the way of new functionality, nor were there any new webpages to look at. Once again, silence.

Fast forward up to September 2009. I email someone the old url that I'd been handing out for years, and they replied saying it didn't work. Sure enough, the page seemed to be gone. I decided to do some googling, but couldn't get anything by just looking for Virtual Hole or Girls Rainbow. Finally, adding Segment into the search, I get something...

A New Tomorrow (in Virtual Holes)

SCW's New Website

There's so much information on this website that it's kind of overwhelming at first. So, let's start with what may be one of my favorite pieces of information graphics that I've seen since I started this site. (Warning: Big image approaching)

SCW's New World Order

If you would, please imagine the preceding image being shown on a gigantic monitor to some secret agent while an evil mastermind laughs. This is Segment's vision of sex in the future, and their part in it. It's also a really good breakdown of what they talked about when I met with them two years ago.

To break down the graphic...


  • Purple - VFT Media - Movies, DVDs, TV channels, and downloads, all encoded with Segments hardware control data stream.
  • Yellow - VFT Live - Live Chat and Webcam shows, encoded live using hardware like the virtual stick. Segment wants to own every part of this, from hosting to content creation methods.
  • Green - VFT Contents - Video Games with control data, similar to the amBX hardware (that I also write drivers for! :D )


  • Red - Distribution Methods - Segment wants to own every kind of distribution method. DVD players, TVs, PCs, whatever.
  • Gray - Virtual Module - This is Segments data decoding module, that takes the signals from the video broadcast and turns it into something that can be used by their hardware


  • Blue - Sexual Feeling Gear - The Virtual Hole, Virtual Rotor (rotateable toys, similar to the clitoral stimulators on rabbit vibes), Virtual Vibrator, Virtual Body (RealDoll!), Virtual Accessories (The Virtual Cup, which I'll get to in a minute
  • Squant - Sexual Healing Gear - Ok I just made that up to make sure you were still listening. Japan may be ahead of us in sex technology, but they still haven't found a robot to replace Marvin Gaye.
  • Orange - Seeing and Hearing Gear - Googles and headphones. Sexy, sexy headphones. I would make a joke about vibrating headphones if they didn't already exist

So, those are some pretty ambitious goals. Take video, encode hardware control stream either live using toys with sensors or in post processing using software, figure out how to package that over any distribution means available, and provide people with an also instant-on sex toy. I've heard people throw this idea around for years, but very few have actually gone in depth on proving how they're going to do it.

Segment, on the other hand, seems to be proud of their end to end solution. Why don't we tromp through it in excrusiating detail now?

V-Studio Encoding Suite

First off, let's restate the end goal. We have the Virtual Hole, and we want to be able to quickly and easily create content for it. Now you could set someone down in front of a computer and make them click sliders to match to the movie you're trying to encode.

V-Studio Software

The V-Studio software solves this problem by using optical flow. In the picture above, you can see their video sychronization suite. Instead of having to set all of the motors by hand, the content creator can simply set a marker in the video, and the marker will map movement along a single axis to the toy. This means that work to create content for the toy is reduced to marker placement per edit, which should keep things on a 1:1 (if not smaller) length to work match when encoding signals for the video. This is really god damn smart. It's part of the technology that I saw two years ago, and I'm still just as impressed by it.

There's been some new hardware added for content creators too, though...

V-Studio Supporter

Maybe you don't want your dick in a tube for 8 hours a day while encoding video. Even worse, maybe you don't HAVE a dick to put in the tube! What ever shall you do to make sure the output of your encoding is sane?

Why, wear a virtual hole sleeve, of course!

This sleeve is the exact same as the insert for the toy, except it goes on your arm. While I want to laugh at this, it's honestly a really smart idea in terms of porn creation ergonomics.

There's also a Mosiacing suite, but I'm going to leave that for another post.

Producing for the Web

I'm going to kind of rush through this part because there aren't a lot of interesting pictures or ways to be funny, but I still think it should be included.

When I say Segment wants to own everything, I mean it. Their web content creation system is definitely full featured, if nothing else. Here's what their content creation software looks like from the point of view of a live webcam site:

  • Open Webcam Software, which connects you to Segment's hosted webcam service
  • Perform
  • You can stream video of the performance
  • You can take pictures of the performance along with the stream
  • At the end of the performance, you can take all content and instantly create a blog post out of it.
  • All media uploading and management is handled through their software, and all blogs are templated. No code needs to be written.

Now, I haven't worked in webcams in many years, but in terms of trying to get quick sites together along with hardware integration, they've covered most of the bases for the content creator.

Fixing Problems

Most of what I've outlined so far is what I also heard two years ago when I met with the company. Between then and now, they've addressed the two issues I mentioned at the start of this article, in ways that I think are quite smart.

Cleanliness was a major issue with the prototype virtual hole. The turkey baster approach was cute, but not viable at all, especially in a toy is a $200+ starting cost. Segment has fixed this by way of the Virtual Cup.

Virtual Cup

It seems that just about everyone has been taking a tip from Tenga these day. By tip, I mean completely ripping off their designs and materials. But, if the sex industry has proven one thing, it's that ripping off someone else's ideas wholesale can still make for a great product (see: every audio toy ever).

Anyways, the main idea here is that you no longer stick your junk directly in the Virtual Hole. Instead, you get Virtual Cups, which I'm guessing are single or (small number) multi use disposable, stick the Virtual Cup in the Virtual Hole, and then stick your junk in the Virtual Cup that's in the Virtual Hole. Viola, no mess in the virtual hole! I would say that having to have a Virtual cup on hand any time you wanted to use the virtual hole would suck, but honestly, this is a problem the guys at Homemade Sex Toys have solved a million times over. Foam, lube, and a ziploc bag, and you're good to go.

While we're on the subject of lube...

Virtual Lotion

Here's the solution to the vibration problem: Virtual Lotion. Yes, it's lube with little pieces of silicon on it.

Remember Orbitz, that drink in the mid 90's that had shit floating in it?

Orbitz, the drink, not the travel site

Yeah. That. This is the lube version of that.

Now, you're probably all like, "Dude? Lube? With shit in it? Seriously?". But stay with me here. As long as you don't go stickin' this in skin holes, it's a fucking great idea.

The problem with the Virtual Hole prototype was that it's a smooth tube with vibrators on it. The form factor itself doesn't really lend much to friction, and the vibrators just make you kinda numb. Not the quickest way to that holyest of holyes for male sex toys, the hands free orgasm.

There's already been little nubbules (please stop now and say the word 'nubbules' out loud. Really. You owe it to yourself. No. Really. I'll wait.

See? Told you.) added to the Virtua Cop portion of the toy, but now you can also add this lube with shit in it. This means that you have little nubbules (You probably just said it out loud again and didn't even notice. THE NUBBULES ARE IN YOUR MIND.) causing sensation, and the lube with shit in it in between the nubbules randomly stimulating other nerves. Instead of a smooth tube, you have a constantly changing tube, that's still be synched with the movie. However, due to the lube and possibility to change out the cups, the movie is really the only static part of the usage.

I'm not a mathematician or anything, but in my head, semi-random friction in a snug tube plus haptic patterns approaches the haptics of real sex. The more random elements you introduce, the less bored your nerves get, and the more stimulation you feel.

Thus ends my biomechanics thesis. Please email me my diploma.

The only problem I have with the Virtual Lotion is the names of the types. The one up there is 'Scrub', which I guess is ok. However, the other two lubes are named 'Slime' (because they totally look like Dragon's Quest Slime, and you how that side of the planet loves Dragon's Quest), and 'Worms' (because they totally look like worms, and if you read Warren Ellis you totally know how that side of the planet loves worms).


Wow. Yeah. My complaints got tossed out the window. It's interesting to see a toy take ideas and evolve over a few years into a more viable product. I really wish I got to do this more often.

I'm not going to say there aren't problems with the Virtual Hole. While the content creation and distribution model is respectable in its breadth, it's still locked down on most sides, and made specifically for the use of the sex industry. At the moment, the vision doesn't really seem to include interpersonal play as much as it does a producer consumer model.

That being said, I'll definitely be keeping an eye on where they're going from now on. If only because I really want to figure out why the Geico Lizard is on their VFT Jockey page.