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We won a CES robotics innovation award, then they took it back (loradicarlo.com)
135 points by DanBC 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

As impressive as this toy sounds, I don't see how it is related to robotics. The comparison between a vibrator and a full sex robot does not make sense to me; a sex bot needs to articulate joints and show human expressions, a vibrator needs to make some ver slight movements in very specific places.

I don't blame the author for being upset about this because I can't see a reason to retract the submission to the contest. I do, however, feel like these kinds of sex toys are only minimally related to robotics, so I think they shouldn't have been able to submit their device in the first place. That's another fault on the end of CES. As sibling comments note, there's been vibrators on the robotics section before, but it might be that they slipped through the submission process as well and, to prevent controversy, let through unscathed. Now that more of these submissions come through the board seems to have decided that enough is enough and actually speak out against these just-if-not-nearly robotic devices.

Their defence that the product has been designed with the help of roboticists is very strange. If me and a few aerospace engineers build a fence that fence does not qualify as a space craft, no matter how many heat shield we stick to the side of it.

Spending half the page blabbering about empowerment of women and LBQTI+ only detracts from their argument. Their baseless claim of mysoginy and homophobia distracts from their reasons for why they should be included in the first place and should not have been included in this response. It makes the author of the piece look very unprofessional and desperate for help from some of those action groups that take to the streets the moment they see the word "discrimination".

Its a robot because it replaces a function normally performed by a human with an automated system.

> "Spending half the page blabbering about empowerment of women and LBQTI+ only detracts from their argument. Their baseless claim of mysoginy and homophobia distracts..."

Rather than dismissing all that information as "blabbering", maybe consider the possibility that it forms the base of their not-so-"baseless" claim of bias? Just a suggestion...

And when I read it, it made perfect sense that this is a robot. As they presented it, this is a machine that uses a variety of movements and sensory feedback to achieve a very precise effect on a subject. There's lots of "robots" that do less. And, y'know... it's a tricky effect to achieve (in a lot of cases - there's a huge variety of responses to stimulus).

It does match the definition of a robot as based on this dictionary's second definition: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/robot

There was also likely a long process for awards, its a pretty scumbag move to suddenly just not give the award/honor after announcing it, I can imagine my anger too if someone was going to give me an award and then not. CES is in the wrong here, they've been quite unprofessional.

The lady does sound a bit too dramatic but I imagine she is pissed, that's all.

When the reason for rejection is "obscenity" and they are letting exhibits play porn in the exhibit hall, I'd be pissed too.

That wasn’t the reason though.

>I can imagine my anger too if someone was going to give me an award and then not

Reminds me of the Miss Universe mix up with Steve Harvey and the Oscar mix up with Warren Betty except an order of magnitude worse.

Awards get retracted from time to time, mostly political reasons. I think it’s silly. Once you award, you shouldn’t take it back, but it’s not unheard of.

That sounds plausible. And I think if the first communication on the matter had been about the difference between robots and devices containing robotics technology, that would be correct. However the first communication (according to the original post) was about indecent / not in keeping with CES image. The "Oh well, it's not even a real robot" seems like an afterthought.

So not really a "baseless claim". A stretch, maybe, but a pretty reasonable one, all things considered.

To me the first response sounds very much like a canned PR response written by someone with little knowledge of what goes on inside CES. CES has allowed vibrators before so I don't see why they wouldn't stroke with policy now. As another comment in this thread states, OhMiBod has been showcased for years.

I think at first someone at the top (or middle management) just said "that's not relevant, someone get that project out of here", which got passed down the chain of the company to some intern writing a standard email with a useless explanation. Then, when that blew up, an actual response was formed by the PR department, then by the top of the company, complicated further by the authors of this piece contacting people unrelated to either statement and getting another explanation from them. Just a corporate communications cluster fuck.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity" and all that.

Again, totally plausible. I agree that the post has jumped to a conclusion, that this conclusion is sensationalist and some of their arguments require further justification.

And I should point out that I very often dismiss such articles as crying wolf, especially where there is something to be gained by doing so (in this case, lots of publicity).

But actually, the issue deserves some publicity. Even if it was just an intern jumping to a somewhat sexist conclusion (though it sounds slightly absurd that they would send an intern to rescind a winning entry, but then I have absolutely no understanding of the inner workings of CES)

So yeah - an intentional choice has clearly been made to view this through a lens; that lens happens to be a little sensationalist. But still, it's far from a baseless accusation.

(also prejudice does not necessitate malice. In my view, in the majority of cases, prejudice IS stupidity. But you can hurt a lot of people with stupidity)

The chain of events you're describing illustrates how sexism actually works. It's not usually the result of a cabal of Evil Sexists deliberately doing their best to be sexists.

What part of that chain of events would lead to a sexist outcome? Where's the gender bias introduced?

I think CES's half-formed "this is immoral" and "this is not a robot" excuses would have been less likely if the product was targeted at men.

I won't say anything about the immorality because differentiating between male and female sexual experiences is incredibly bigoted and I don't believe this is what was meant by their message at all.

I'd expect a similarly advanced fleshlight to be refused on the same grounds as this toy, despite being built for men. I don't think it's fair that this product, advanced as though it might be, is put in the same category as fully articulated sex robots.

Like I said, this isn't about intentions. It's entirely possible to unintentionally differentiate between male and female sexual experiences.

I don't understand why you think it shouldn't be in the same category as a sex robot. A robot doesn't have to be some kind of fake human to be a robot.

Without an example of them showing bias by actually giving an award to a product that is much like theirs that targets men this is sheer conjecture, and presumption of bias. Has the CES ever given an award for an adult product? Perhaps it could be due to the USA having very puritan views on sex still to this day (Violence OK on broadcast TV, but no nudity/sex).

Yes, CES has previously given awards to sex toys - even to sex toys targeted at women.

CES did not say it was immoral, that was deceptive on the part of the author.

Their initial response was to cite the following text:

> Entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified. CTA reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any entry at any time which, in CTA’s opinion, endangers the safety or well being of any person, or fails to comply with these Official Rules.

So, if they didn't call it immoral, they called it obscene, indecent or profane.

You left off the most obvious and least controversial option, “not keeping with CTA’s image” of course.

But it makes for a better outrage narrative if we cherry pick the most offensive interpretation possible.

It comes down to semantics, but based off the opening paragraph on "Robot" it seems that it would fit the definition:

"A robot is a machine—especially one programmable by a computer— capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. Robots can be guided by an external control device or the control may be embedded within. Robots may be constructed to take on human form but most robots are machines designed to perform a task with no regard to how they look"

From the description in the article it sounded like the entry managed complex simulations of a tongue and fingers. I can see how it could be defined as a robot.

I haven't looked up what the CES definition/guidelines for a robotics entry is though.

Is an articulating cordless drill a robot? Because that’s all this thing is. It’s still an electronic, but it’s not a robot.

If this thing could learn and sense which movements produced the best effects, then it would be a robot. But it’s no different than a remote control car, and we don’t call those robots.

No - An articulating cordless drill can't carry out a "complex series of actions" and it can't do anything automatically.

It stated in the article that the device's operation could be tailored to each individual's preferences.

Problem is: The toy already won the robotics award and it was only withdraw later.

The conclusion that can be taken from your explanation is that CES have a bunch of robots experts in the judging team of a robotics contest and they could’t tell what is or isn’t a robot before awarding it a prize.

That’s even worse in my opinion. If I was them, I would rather stick with the accusation of sexism.

Agreed, this seems like a blatant attempt at co-oping the empowerment movement in order to boost their bottom line.

According to Fortune (http://fortune.com/2019/01/09/the-ose-toy-ces2019/), CES responded to the author two months ago. If this is truly about airing grievances about losing the award, why wait until now to publish a respose?

>Agreed, this seems like a blatant attempt at co-oping the empowerment movement in order to boost their bottom line.

Exactly this.

On a side note, where can I get more information about the Osé (e.g. prototype, demo video)?

I think it's because it made the frontpage of reddit

It made the Guardian where I read it. HN asks people to submit the original article, which is why I submitted this.

but it does get them clicks and is a way to milk the situation. marketing is getting paid for this one. mo one cares about appeals to reason. everyone clicks on appeals to emotion

To add, there's not much inclusivity in a company of single female-only product, in a market of overwhelmingly female-oriented products. Doesn't that fit into "majority" category?

Has there been any inovation for men toys?

> a market of overwhelmingly female-oriented products

What market are you talking about? This claim seems pretty dubious.

> Has there been any inovation for men toys?

See: CES.

The posting literally describes sex toys for men at CES being displayed. There have also been numerous sex toys over the years by multiple partners and companies. I'm not sure why the award was withdrawn, however none of the options make CES look good.

I’m trying to link the accusation of gender bias and LGBT rights with the act of conceding the Innovation Award. Looks like their reason is that “it does not fall under Robotics category” which the article debates well. But, what actions and indications lead to gender bias?

If I am a woman and I get rejected from a job, I don’t immediately start accusing the interviewer of gender bias. It hurts the cause for real issues when the noise in the social media is due to all kinds of baseless accusations.

I guess the argument is that if the only difference between two "robots" is the gender of their intended audience, and one gets banned, then that's prejudice.

Along the same lines as, if the only difference between two people doing the same job is their gender, and one gets paid more, then that's prejudice.

They're not wrong.

Of course, CES could argue that it's bad timing - that the new product came out just as CES started cleaning up. Maybe these male-oriented developments will be similarly disallowed. We'll have to wait and see. Still, terrible optics for CES and a bad decision all round.

Their vibrator got banned from competing for an award. It did NOT get banned from being at CES.

The male-focused sex products did not even compete for the awards as far as I can tell, or at least did not get any of the awards.

>and subsequently that we would not be allowed to showcase Osé, or even exhibit at CES 2019.

It did, which means that there is a bias, given that other sex-themed tech was not similarly banned.

"Along the same lines as, if the only difference between two people doing the same job is their gender, and one gets paid more, then that's prejudice."

I agree BUT:

How do you know the only difference between the selection of the robots was specifically and exclusively gender? May be other robots contending for the award deserved it and they were actually better robots!?

Well, if there where better robots, then they would have won the award in the first place. the strange thing here in regards to that, is that they won the award and then CES came and said, sorry we take it back, with no real reason why.

Ah, good point. That’s really strange.


Did you read through the article? It's laughable for CES to claim that sex toys are somehow too "obscene" for it or are off topic.

They claim it is too obscene in the context of the innovation award categories- there isn't one for sex toys (https://www.ces.tech/Events-Programs/Innovation-Awards/Honor...).

I absolutely agree that they are overly puritanical when it comes to adult products in general though.

The "Tech for a better world" category seems to be a catch-all, including such things as the Nissan LEAF, a smart pet bed, and a wine preservation opener.

Agreed. Unfortunately the organizers seem to limit the innovation award to PG-rated products :/

Which should have been covered in the entry section before the award was even made. They received an award that was rescinded for either puritanical reasons, bad category reasons, or political reasons. None of these are anything other than ineptitude or bias. I can say I'd not want to put money forth for CES given that they can't even get their awarding process straight.


It's easy to blame on gender bias in todays climate, unfortunately. Every single major media outlet will publish your story.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between actual gender bias and gender bias pushed by activist, i feel.

I absolutely agree- every major cause tends to attract those who wish to capitalize off of it for their own gain, and all it does is provide fodder for those who are looking for reasons to detract from the movement.

According to the Fortune article (http://fortune.com/2019/01/09/the-ose-toy-ces2019/), they were notified around two months ago- why publish a response now? Seems more of a strategic PR play in the news cycle IMO

If the timing is a PR play, it doesn't follow that they're wrong about the sexism.

For those who didn't read the article... The author is claiming that their is a partial lewdness order among products so that normal products <= robotic vibrator <= vr porn. Therefore, if the lewdness threshold doesn't ban vr porn it cannot ban robotic vibrators either. But since robotic vibrators are banned and not vr porn, discrimination must be at play.

”Robotic” vibrators are not banned. OhMiBod (woman founder, too) has had them on display for years, and have a booth this year. Apparently it adjusts intensity based on your heartbeat from your apple watch now!

Also, a smart vibrator from last year, also by a woman founder:


The lewdness thing is inconsistent but clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with gender bias or sexism.

OhMiBod's categorization as a personal massager is probably the determining factor- it provides the organizers enough plausible deniability to have it displayed on the main floor.

No, I did not misuse the word "ban". Read the article:

"My team rejoiced and celebrated. A month later our excitement and preparations were cut short when we were unexpectedly informed that the administrators at CES and CTA were rescinding our award and subsequently that we would not be allowed to showcase Osé, or even exhibit at CES 2019."

I.e the product was BANNED. Really seems that in this HN thread people are bending themselves backwards trying to find any other explanation for the events EXCEPT for sexism and/or discrimination. It is as if people have a priori decided that sexism can't occur.

You got an answer from someone else earlier than this comment that you didn't answer. There was vibrator, from women founder, who were at CES.


You are bending yourself backward trying to ignore that sexism or discrimination may have not been the issue here.

If theses others products were there, why wasn't they banned too if there is sexism?

That article is only one side of the story, a side that clearly want to prove that sexism and discrimination was at play here. It's fine but it only tell argument in favor of that hypothesis.

In this case, maybe her stands was relative to her winning. That would means she could no longer showcase, but wouldn't actually be disallowed to showcase (except by the deadline, which isn't sexist I can assure you ;) ).

There's still so much sexism in the world, particularly in entrepreneurship, but blaming everything on it is dangerous and can actually hurt the cause.

I didn't respond to that comment because the argument is fallacious. Just because someone has previously acted without prejudice does not mean that they will always act without prejudice in the future. It is the "I'm not Racist, I have many black friends!" argument in disguise. Especially when it comes to non-personal entities there is no firm expectation of consistent behavior.

I'm not privy to the details of this story and there are always many possible explanations for any given set of observations. I can therefore not know for sure that the explanation is sexism, but it does fit the bill. Those who discard that as even a possibility are biased.

> Those who discard that as even a possibility are biased.

You are the only one discarding possibilities here.

I didn't read it as "vibrators are banned in general", but as "vibrators are banned from receiving awards (in the robotics category)".

As far as I can tell, the VR porn and the "sex robot for men" were not given awards either. They were just present on the CES.

I believe they're not allowed to exhibit either (unless there exhibiting rights where prehaps dependent on winning an award)

we were unexpectedly informed that the administrators at CES and CTA were rescinding our award and subsequently that we would not be allowed to showcase Osé, or even exhibit at CES 2019

Not just VR porn; a sex doll too (leading to such suggestive video titles as "Sex Robot hands-on at CES 2018").

Perhaps the only reason they'd support VR porn is that that's one of the things that'll make people more inclined to buy VR-related products

If they wanted to avoid obscenity, they should have taken down all the toys and any sexist entertainment out there.

It just doesn't seem fair to this curly looking innovative toy.

> any sexist entertainment out there

Indeed. Booth babes, 'fitness' models, etc are blatant wink wink nudge nudge "this isn't eye candy specifically to lure in male reporters and buyers, they're here to welcome you to our product booth and nothing else, honest".

Why are they playing the gender bias card here? It’s odd to take it back, but this clearly has nothing to do with gender. What a silly ploy for even more attention.

According to the article, they aren't allowed to exhibit their sex toy for women at CES, while a sex doll for men and VR porn targeted at men are on display.

There may be other explanations, but it does look like a bit of a double standard.

The previous sex toy that won an award was for women, from OhMiBod, founded by a woman. This is just a weak attempt to create controversy. It has nothing to do with them being women and that’s a silly first assumption.

If you go to the OhMiBod website, they have a big ad up boasting of their CES 2019 presence, including their all-female lineup of vibrators.

“The company’s experience contrasts starkly with the way CTA has treated sex toy company OhMiBod. Based in New Hampshire, the company has a variety of vibrators on display. They launched more than a decade ago and first appeared at CES in 2011 with a vibrator that synced to music on an iPod.

They’ve been at the show ever since, and have received nothing but support from CTA, said co-founder Suki Dunham.”

Also, there is nothing gender-specific about VR porn.

The fact that they were notified by CES 2 months ago and only launched a cheap smear campaign now is also telling.

And another year, a product by B.sensory, another smart vibrator, also won an award. Also a female founder.

But yeah, clearly they hate companies run by women and products for women.

Face it, you are getting played by a PR op here. Startups will do anything for coverage, and this is a pretty low brow tactic. Sadly, it worked very well.

It’s unfortunate because it really waters down actual incidents of sexism, and people are getting desensitized to claims that any adversity someone faces is because everyone else is a racist or sexist. That’s counterproductive to the cause.

>The previous sex toy that won an award was for women, from OhMiBod, founded by a woman

So...this completely undermines CES's revised story (that they can't give the Lora DiCarlo toy an award because there's no category for sex toys).

The fact that CES has given two separate reasons for this decision, neither of which makes sense, isn't exactly making them look good.

Who cares. They should write an article about their confusing rules then (it would not be the first, this comes up every year).

But don’t cry sexism when there are female “sexual health” devices by female founders on display and winning awards.

Maybe they are trying to change their image, and this device couldn’t satisfy another category. Maybe they decided it wasn’t novel enough in the areas that matter, and it’s just a better vibrator.

VR Porn is in the VR category, not an adult category, for example. And VR porn for women (whatever that means) is allowed too. Even if the studio has a mostly woman engineering team!

There is already a conference for adult toys at the same time. CES doesn’t want to be that.

That's like saying "don't complain about sexism in tech when there are female programmers". The fact that CES doesn't operate a 100% efficient program of sexist discrimination doesn't show that Lora DiCarlo didn't experience sexist discrimination.

No, it’s not. A simple examination of the circumstances demonstrates that sexism is the least likely explanation here. There is nothing to suggest that may have been the case, and the weak reasoning they do provide is demonstrably false.

Sexism isn't "the explanation", it's the background structure that makes it easier for stuff like this to happen. Trying to isolate sexism as a discrete causal component would be like trying to isolate the causal role of capitalism, or American culture. If your landlord evicts you for not paying the rent, they're probably not thinking "I must follow the principles of capitalism" while they're doing it. But it's still something that happens in the context of a particular economic structure.

This logic just doesn't make any sense. The relationship between charging for a rental and capitalism is obvious. Nothing that transpired even hints that sexism could have played a role, conscious or otherwise, and the data that we do have suggests the opposite. Why are you digging your heels in and insisting that there must be a bias component involved in this decision?

From http://fortune.com/2019/01/09/the-ose-toy-ces2019/

"Sex toys and CES have an unusual history. While the Ose wasn’t allowed on the show floor, adult novelty company OhMiBod has been a regular attendee for several years (and even won a Best of CES award in the the “Digital Health and Fitness Product” category in 2016).

Trojan condoms has also shown branded sex toys in years past. And Naughty America, an adult film studio, has a presence on the show floor this year, albeit in a private meeting room in the back."

Which might explain why they couldn't display their product- all of the private spaces were already sold out by then.

A French sex toy for women (Little Bird by B. Sensory) already won a CES innovation award in 2016. I can't remember if it was in the robotics category or not.

We are already reading the arguments of one side here, I wonder what the actual justification for the rejection was.

The Fortune article has more context- http://fortune.com/2019/01/09/the-ose-toy-ces2019/

Considering CES responded two months ago, why publish this response now? Seems more of a strategic PR play in the news cycle IMO. I'm 100% for the equality/equity movement but this seems to be an attempt at co-oping it for PR in order to boost a bottom line, at the expense of providing ammo to those who wish to discredit the movement entirely.

Maybe they should have submitted their product to the appropriate catagoey -- the one with all the other sex toys.

Might wanna put an NSFW tag on this...

"We also believe that society needs to drop the taboo around sex and sexuality - it’s a part of life and health that absolutely should be part of mainstream discourse."

It's 2019 and an overwhelming number of social discourse is solely about sex and sexuality. A lot of people literally care about sex health more than any other health and it is, by many, believed to have negative effect on many people's mental health as well.

That doesn't justify a double standard.

But making such opening statements questions their integrity

Their integrity is irrelevant when you have the facts and can judge the behavior of CES for yourself.

But while examining this article, it should make people question everything that's implied

I don't see anything implied; it's all quite explicitly stated.

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