Fundawear: Arduino finds its way into your underwear


Fundawear controlled by iPhone

The vibrating underwear announced by condom-maker Durex has clearly touched a sensitive nerve around the world judging by the number of stories about the remotely-controlled masturbation undies that have flashed up on major media websites.

But what’s actually inside those underpants and bra that are designed to let you deliver app-controlled vibrations to your partner’s private regions even when you’re not there?

It just so happens that the project’s creative director Jay Morgan dropped in to the APC offices with the Durex team yesterday so we could check out the ahem look and feel of the so-called Fundawear. Being the world’s longest-published tech mag we were naturally expected to examine the tech that made all this potential fun possible.

It turns out that Fundawear is built around the same technology that drives the Arduino microcontroller board program a topic covered in our Arduino masterclass. In fact Morgan offered that the initial prototype was developed on the testbench around an Arduino Mega board featuring Atmel’s ATMEGA2560 8-bit microcontroller chip.

Arduino Mega in Fundawear
Arduino Mega board which provided the inspiration for the Fundawear board.

Intrigued by the use of Arduino our chief reviewer and Arduino expert Darren Yates popped out of the labs to have a chat to Morgan. “The unit we saw was clearly the first prototype that had left the confines of a testbench and featured a customised cut-down circuit board branded ‘durexperiment’ with the ATMEGA2560 chip plus a secondary board delivering Wi-Fi connectivity” says Yates.

“The microcontroller deals with what are five small piezo vibration elements sown into each of the garments and powered by a standard 9-volt battery.” When Yates questioned Morgan about the battery life Morgan said they’ve had it lasting up to a week although the ‘usage rate’ wasn’t clear.

As for the garments themselves the circuit board and battery are located in an enclosed rear panel of the underwear covered by Neoprene layer to supposedly reduce the discomfort with the piezo elements discretely located elsewhere.

Actuators on Fundawear Bra
The piezo actuator inserted into the cup of the Fundawear bra.

Yates explains: “The ATMEGA2560 chip is the top-end of Atmel’s 8-bit MEGA series of microcontroller chips with up to 54 digital outputs and 256KB of on-board flash memory. Morgan says they picked the 2560 because they needed 20 outputs when the underwear pieces were apparently linked in the early design stages. But a recent design change means it’s quite likely you could build it using a much cheaper ATMEGA328P chip provided the source code fits inside the smaller 32KB of flash inside. The ATMEGA328P is the same chip used in the popular Arduino Uno controller boards.”

Fundawear controller board
Custom-built controller board using the Arduino ATMEGA2560 chip.

Morgan told Yates the Wi-Fi connectivity allows the Fundawear to be controlled anywhere in the world by turning the underwear into something of a Wi-Fi hotspot (as it were). “Connectivity is driven by Amazon servers for low-latency connection” says Yates. “To ensure privacy and security the data controlling the underwear is said to include special security codes.”

So Yates’s conclusion is that Fundawear is basically “a series of piezo vibration elements driven by an Arduino-class microcontroller board over a Wi-Fi network connection and controlled by an iPhone over the web.”

While Morgan has been reported by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying the underwear ‘won’t come in for less than $200’ Yates thought the actual physical technology in the garment we saw wouldn’t cost more than $70 at most.

Does it work? APC staff who “felt” the prototype (we declined to actually wear the Arduino-powered undergarments) were sceptical that the vibrations would be powerful enough to do more than just deliver some remote foreplay rather than taking one all the way so to speak. Yates also pointed out that the prototype needed plenty of work before it was ready for retail stage: “ribbon connectors need to be redesigned and the build needs to be changed from two sandwiched circuit boards to a single unit” he said.

While Yates appreciated the flexibility displayed by the Arduino platform in this vibrating underwear experiment he said “at the end of the day though I’m just not sure how sexy is it knowing you’ve got an Arduino and a 9-volt battery stuck in your bum while attempting some remote foreplay with a friend.”

Here’s a YouTube clip of Ben Moir the project’s tech director talking about the technology behind it.