Crackpots and entrepreneurs massage imagination to create artificial sex device For men, it could mean sex without the cost and hassle of wining, dining and dazzling an intended conquest. For women, it evokes the possibility of experiencing an orgasm. I am referring to that quasi-mythical joy machine called the orgasmatron. The machine first appeared in the 1968 film Barbarella, where Jane Fonda played a 41st-century space adventurer. A similar machine graced Woody Allen's 1973 film Sleeper, set in 2173, in which Allen climbed into the machine, which resembled a white sarcophagus, and experienced instant sexual ecstasy. Every year, some crackpot or other pops up claiming he has built an orgasmatron. The press release usually says something like this: 'Professor Sharon Schizmeister simply flicked the switch and then began to moan, hyperventilate and convulse'. If anyone succeeds in inventing a machine that makes us feel fractionally better, even momentarily, it will fly off the shelves like diet pills. Alas, the quality of the two 'orgasmatrons' available now is doubtful. One, for women only, is 'implanted in the buttocks', which sounds like torture, as does the price of the device: #9,000 ($131,257), the same price as an MBA. It gets worse. The 'stimulation' comes from bolts of electricity that shoot up the spine. The alternative to this device, which would do credit to the Egyptian police, looks disturbingly like a spider. For some, just the sight of it may be enough to trigger moans and shrieks - but of the wrong kind. The device works by massaging the pressure points around the head and the back of your neck. It is supposedly able to relieve headaches and tension, and even induce 'paroxysms of delight'. If you are suggestible enough to have experienced the last, then you probably derive the same pleasure from, say, swivelling in an office chair or popping bubblewrap. It beats me how being poked around by a mechanical spider can be erotic. Granted, it might be slightly soothing, if you can move beyond the initial fear and loathing. But you wonder how much better it can be than time-honoured alternatives such as alcohol, sleep and, well, massage reassuringly performed by a human. You can see why one critic, commenting on this orgasmatron, snapped about 'the worst case of dodgy naming in the history of everything'. Perhaps the solution to sexual frustration is a new kind of buzz called 'tickling'. Samsung has developed mobile phones, set to debut this month, that claims to transmit sensations ranging from a stroke to a slap and a squeeze via SMS. The development comes down to haptics - the science of triggering sensations of touch and texture through artificial stimuli. You have perhaps come in contact with haptics in the shape of a video console joystick that shakes when you get shot, for example. When a tickle arrives, 'vibrotactile' motors in the handset kick in, supposedly creating the physical sensation the sender wants to convey. The catch is that the innovation may generate a plague of touch message spam or 'spouch', for example. In addition, it is doubtful whether the tech gurus responsible have enough guile to make the sensations truly convincing. How do you programme a phone to simulate a caress when manufacturers struggle to devise even a sweet-sounding ring tone? So, for the meantime, women may just have to rely on low-tech ecstasy aids: dimmed lights, tinkling music, champagne and chocolates. As for the men ... Well, let's not go there.