Real Dolls are nothing new. Regardless of personal opinion, no one’s shocked by the realization that lifelike dolls which cost thousands exist for the sole purpose of being made love to until one of their artificial limbs break. But what if there were more than Real Dolls? What if someone invented a robot to fulfill your every desire — would you pay for that?

Vanity Fair has published a fascinating interview with the man who’s trying to make the premise of bringing a sex robot home more palatable for the average person. While the dolls have generally been relegated to stories about creepy men and off-beat comedies, Matt McMullen, inventor of “the world’s finest love doll” wants to make them a more mainstream topic of conversation; these dolls aren’t just for loners anymore, they’re for anyone who’s interested in self-pleasuring.

But not all customers are painfully shy sad sacks. There is no “type” who buys the company’s dolls and other silicone products. They include futurists, art collectors, truckdrivers, scientists, housewives, couples seeking to enhance their sex lives, lawyers, surgeons, a nursing association, a dental school, men with prostate cancer who can’t get an erection but miss the cuddling, burn victims, and wounded vets.

And here’s something even more surprising:

According to Abyss, the Department of Defense has purchased dolls from the company—minus the dirty bits—so soldiers can practice saving the wounded in war games. Psychiatrists have used them in therapy sessions. Parents have ordered them for their autistic or otherwise challenged grown-up children. Add to the list very wealthy sheikhs, princes, a NASCAR driver, a Nobel Prize winner, and Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil, who showed off his $15,000 customized Body A on MTV’s Cribs.

While a fully functioning sex robot is likely light years away (another man interviewed in the article doesn’t believe it will happen for at least another 500 years), McMullen’s dolls have come a long way from when they began. The formula remains the same, but the dolls have are more customizable and have had some electronic enhancements, which haven’t worked out quite as expected.

Another disappointment was the “Interactive Response System,” in which small, very sensitive sensors were put in erogenous zones of the body. A bank of canned audio files would enable the doll to verbally “respond” based on where she was touched. During the development phase he touted it as “very interactive, to the point where there is an intelligence there,” and envisioned “thousands of responses and they will randomly mix together to form almost limitless combinations.”

It too was a nightmare to install and turned out to be like an X-rated Tickle Me Elmo. Instead of “That tickles!” the doll said things like “Ow!” and “Oh, that feels good” or simply moaned. “We did that for a while and it was cool—some people loved it,” Matt recalls halfheartedly. Others didn’t think it was worth the $1,500. “But more people said, ‘Well, I don’t know if I want her to talk.’ I kind of like that it’s just a doll, and that’s kind of where sometimes I feel I am. You start adding all these other things, it’s not really just a doll anymore.”

But things are getting better. McMullen says that while he’s reluctant to make the dolls to artificially intelligent — it takes away from the realness — he’s working on “apps” that will make the experience more gratifying for some while raising the price tag of the dolls from $7,000 to god knows how much. But can you really put a price on heated silicone and eyes that move on a face that doesn’t?

“One of the bigger things I’ve been plying away at is integrating some sort of minor intelligence into the dolls where you can communicate with them,” he says, like an unusually mellow mad scientist. “Some minor expression, verbal interaction, moving eyes, stuff like that. I could have released stuff [in 2013], but it’s not quite where I want it yet, and until I get that technology to a point that I feel it enhances the doll instead of making it a little spooky or just awkward, I’m not going to do it.”

Honestly, right now it does sound a little creepy. If a doll that moaned like a “Tickle Me Elmo” sounds kind of hilarious (and if it weren’t so expensive, just right to use in a prank) a love robot that can only change expression and move its eyes back and forth (and probably up and down for that whole orgasm thing) sounds a little bit more like House of Wax than it does an erotic night with the lights down low. But as long as buyers are willing to pay, McMullen has to continue innovating. He won’t make dogs, though, or celebrities or children. He has hard limits.

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A survey suggests that more people than you thought would willingly engage in the act of love-making with a robot; the only question remaining is how much they’d be willing to pay.

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