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The future of sleep Add to ...

There's one for the long-distance lover, another for the nostalgic partner, one for the hardcore techie and even one for the eighties junkie. Designers from around the world are producing tricked-out beds, and banking they will stimulate intimacy in the early adopters willing to hop in.

At last week's Milan Design Show, British designer Adam Farlie unveiled Vessel One, a bed that records conversations and sounds, replaying them at random when there is silence.

In Edinburgh, designers are testing "Mutsugoto" technology that allows long distance partners to draw on each other's bodies with light, from many miles away. Partners wear touch-activated rings visible to a camera mounted above them. As they pass the ring across their own body, a computer tracks the movements, projecting them in beams of light on their partner's body. The designers are pushing the technology as an intimate antidote to e-mail, BlackBerries and other business interfaces that partners inevitably end up using to communicate.

Far less subtle in the world of high tech bedding is the Starry Night, a James Bond-like number out of the United States. At a staggering price tag of $50,000 (U.S.), the bed comes equipped with surround-sound, wireless Internet, a headboard that doubles as a film projector - and an anti-snore monitor.

Designers are even conjuring Prince: Karim Rashid, who once taught at the Ontario College of Art and was later responsible for Umbra's ubiquitous Garbo cans, has now given the world the Glow Bed.

"Immortalizing the 25th anniversary of the release of Purple Rain, the Glow Bed brings you right back to 1984 - in a good way," reads the release for the high-gloss bed, which goes for $23,000 (U.S.) and also made the rounds in Milan last week. The bed is mercifully free of frilly pirate sleeves, but does come souped up with an iPod docking station, swinging side tables and two mattresses, presumably for comfort, or extra wiggle room for the nights your prince ticks you off.

Although Vessel One and Mutsugoto were originally developed as art pieces and Glow Bed and Starry Night - which remains in the final stages of development - were marketed commercially, all raise questions about what place technology has in the bed.

"It's one of the questions everyone has: Is technology going to ruin sex? Is technology going to ruin intimacy?" said certified sex educator Cory Silverberg, who will be delivering a plenary address on sex and technology at next month's Annual Guelph Sexuality Conference.

"We tend to look at new technology as by its very nature being something completely new and fundamentally different than things we've experienced before. And that's never the case. They are a variation on something."

He sees Vessel One as a high-tech variation on not washing the sheets after a lover leaves. The creators of Mutsugoto, meanwhile, see their design as a "purist" mode of communication derived from touch and gesture: Mutsugoto is an archaic Japanese word that means "intimate lovers' talk" or "whispered intimacies."

"Just like certain contexts are not the best place to get work done and be productive, a laptop or computer sitting on a desk used for work purposes is not necessarily the right venue to feel a sense of closeness with someone else," said Dr. Stefan Agamanolis, chief executive and research director of Distance Lab, the Scottish research institute where he is developing Mutsugoto alongside Matthew Karau and Tomoko Hayashi.

Dr. Agamanolis said although the researchers introduced the technology at art exhibitions, visitors often want to buy it.

"There are many ways it could be offered as a custom home installation, or something you get in a hotel room," he said.

No doubt the design raising most questions is Vessel One. The bed is always recording its occupants, although users can turn down the playback volume.

"I have tested it and I have to say it is fascinating, sexy, uncanny and painful all at once," said Mr. Farlie, adding, "It is a constant literal reminder of the trials and tribulations of a relationship."

Indeed, the possibilities for trouble appear endless: What if the bed replays a nasty fight while you are having a blessedly good day, or squeaks out an infidelity? What if the words and sounds played back at random are those of a lover who has left you, or worse yet, died?

Mr. Farlie, who is taking orders via e-mail, admits he is interested in the "subversive" side of his creation: "How might a jealous person manipulate information from it? How would a sexual deviant put Vessel to use? How might a person who has lost a loved one think of his or her bed as a new site for mourning or closure?"

But asked about its potentially harmful ramifications, Mr. Farlie said he thinks the technology could also bring partners closer together.

He added, "Product designers don't design their cutlery blunt because they are afraid their users might stab someone."

Mr. Silverberg said the designs are primarily "insights into the possibility."

"The art pieces, they may never work in real life, but it's like Star Trek, it's showing us what could be possible. I'm most excited when it is artists doing it because they think in creative ways, as opposed to the sex industry which thinks in very non-creative ways."

But he allows: "Technology doesn't bring us happiness, joy, partners, or closer together. It's what we as individuals do with them."

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Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

 

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