Coy Connections: Sensory Devices For 21st Century Flirting

Dating: it’s tough. And it’s always been a challenging frontier, from the rigid courtships of yesteryear to the stringent gender parameters of our grandparents’—and even parents’—generations. Human attraction, despite researchers’ best efforts, is a challenging thing to quantify or understand. What makes us tick? What makes the heart quicken? Whose pheromones will awaken our primal desires?

Dating websites and social apps have had an irreversible effect on the way we—to put it simply—meet and mate. Researchers at MIT have been examining the evolution of social interactions for over fifty years, and dating apps like Tinder have had a startling effect not just on courtship, but on interracial reproduction and real-life networks; basically, our parents were likely to date a friend of a friend, someone connected to their social circle, whereas today, online dating allows connections to be made with complete strangers — widening the net, so to speak.

But despite the positive and progressive ways in which technology has allowed us to evolve, we’re equally as familiar with the downsides. “Our increased uptake of digital technology has led us to be more immersed in a virtual world,” says a team of four designers from the Innovation Design Engineering joint double masters course at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. “We are less present in real life, making it harder for us to communicate with others face to face. Although we are constantly surrounded by people, we behave as if we were on our own. We believe that our eyes always communicate, longing to connect with others.”

Such were the concerns and conversations that led to the creation of Ripple, an accessory that puts a contemporary spin on old-fashioned flirtations.

An otherworldly twist on the idea of a ‘smart device’, the Ripple is composed of tendril-adorned shoulder pieces. Designed primarily for women, these wing-like accessories help to reduce the “vulnerability of first interactions” by scanning the wearer’s immediate environment and observing the behaviour of others. Using data compiled by its designers, who monitored social interactions to determine constants and variables, the Ripple relies on computer vision to gauge body language. It functions as an extension of the body, giving the wearer sensorial feedback when it detects attraction by way of a gentle tap on the chest. According to the designers, this sensation is meant to reflect the “excitement you feel when meeting someone special.” When the attraction is mutual, those colourful tentacles will react to the observer’s gaze and send a clear message of shared interest. This response adds a tactile, visual complexity to the language of seduction.

Further to this coy new form of communication, Ripple sends subtle signals to the wearer to increase confidence levels. When Ripple senses an interested party, it sends a ripple up the back, encouraging the wearer to maintain their posture. If the wearer chooses to meet the gaze of the attracted individual, Ripple warms up, improving comfort levels and mirroring the body’s natural stimulations when aroused.

There are currently two prototypes of the Ripple. The first is manufactured using SLA 3D printed parts, and its tentacles are made from laser-cut acetate film. The second prototype is manufactured from bent wire, and its tentacles are made from mesh plastic tubing enhanced with colourful plastic inserts.

This quirky, ethereal device has been captivating the tech world, with features by the likes of TIME, TechCrunch, and CNN boosting its international exposure. And while it stands as a novelty item—a curiosity or conversation piece—for now, we can imagine this technology eventually finding a niche place in the dating world. Erotic, playful, and—most importantly—built to foster communication and consent, we can envision organized parties in which guests are flanked with colourful tentacles, readily engaged in the art of seduction. Is this the new speed dating? We won’t say no to this pretty, deliciously coy invention.



Images: Ripple