‘Electric Eel’ digital condom promises to make sparks fly in the bedroom

Conductive threads sewn into prototype prophylactics aim to restore the pleasurable sensations dulled by wearing traditional condoms

Considering how important they are to modern society and how little people like wearing the things, it's a wonder that the design of the condom has barely changed over hundreds of years.

The drawback of having a prophylactic that is so widely disliked has even inspired the Gates Foundation to make the invention of “the Next Generation of Condom” one of their Grand Challenges in Global Health - a research initiative designed to find solutions to 15 global health problems.

“The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use,” reads the competition’s guidelines. “We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use.”

Now, in response to the Gates Foundation challenge, a pair of PhD students have created a “digital condom”: a prophylactic that sends electrical impulses through the material to create pleasurable sensations.

The first prototype Electric Eel.

Firaz Peer and Andrew Quitmeyer of Georgia Tech University have already put ‘The Electric Eel’ (their name) through two prototype stages. The first used conductive threads sewn into a regular condom to “add new sensations”, although the pair noted that future manufacturing would have to directly embed conductive leads into the material to “maintain the soundness and protection [of the condom]”.

A second prototype described by the researchers as “soft stimulating sleeve” (but that looks more like a sock) featured “conductive arrays of electrodes along the sensitive underneath part of the shaft”.

Peer and Quitmeyer have also experimented with an attached Arduino microcontroller that can activate the electric currents in response to various stimuli. In one experiment the Electric Eel was hooked up to a chest harness that synced up the electricity to the wearers’ breathing.

The pair are currently looking to fund their research through crowd-sourcing website Indiegogo and are offering a hand-made device to backers for $350. Unfortunately, uptake has been so slow and so far they've raised only $60 of their $10,000 goal.

Although the project may sound ridiculous, it's undeniable that creating a better condom could have a substantial impact on global health, preventing unplanned pregnancies and stopping the spread of diseases such as HIV. The Electric Eel might be a self-consciously juvenile attempt to solve the problem, but at least its bringing a sense of imagination to a centuries old design.

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