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Behind the scenes at a sex robot factory

Abyss Creations, maker of ultra-realistic sex dolls, wants to tap robotics and AI to bring them to life. Get an inside look at how robot lovers get ready for action.

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Ry Crist
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1 of 49 Marta Franco/CNET

All in the details

Warning: This gallery contains images of naked sex dolls. It's not for kids.

Abyss Creations has been making and selling hyper-realistic silicone sex dolls for more than 20 years, but its newest push involves bringing the dolls to life using animatronics, sensor tech and artificial intelligence that gives the dolls programmable personalities. 

We traveled to San Marcos, California, to see these new sexbots and to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the company's headquarters. Click through to see how the company is working to make them a reality.

Check out our in-depth feature about these RealDolls and how they will shape our lives. 

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2 of 49 Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Into the Abyss

Each doll is created by hand by a team of designers and artists. Clients can customize their dolls down to the finest detail, then have it built to their specifications.

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The next gen

Soon, you'll be able to purchase a RealDoll with an animatronic head that talks, moves and blinks. You'll also be able to program its personality to your liking, and get to know it through regular conversation.

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The cost of a companion

If you end up wanting a body for your virtual girlfriend, it won't come cheap. RealDolls start at around $4,000, and the robotic, talking head costs $10,000. More on that in just a bit.

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5 of 49 Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

Harmony app

Robotic dolls are only available for preorder, and won't start shipping until December. But the Harmony AI platform is currently available as an Android app for a $20 yearly subscription. You can use it to create a fully customized virtual female companion. Sort of like Siri with a sex drive.

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6 of 49 Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Male dolls, too

Abyss makes male and female, as well as transgender, dolls. The female dolls are the top sellers. Abyss estimates that nine female dolls leave the factory for each male doll it sells. The male version of the AI platform is still in development and should be arriving sometime next year.

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Customizable appearances

One of the first things you see upon entering the Abyss offices is a wall of heads showcasing the various face and hairstyle options customers can choose from.

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Build-a-bot

Customers can select from one of several pre-configured faces, or they can design their own on the Abyss website.

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Production floor

The Abyss production floor is smaller than you might expect -- hardly bigger than a basketball court. Several designers share the space, and are able to manufacture a few hundred dolls per year.

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Molds

The molds are the secret to the Abyss manufacturing process. After designing a new body, the team will create a mold for it. To make a doll, they fill the mold with a movable metal skeleton, pour in a special liquid silicone mixture, and wait for it to solidify into a finished body.

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Masters

The master copies of each body design hang above the production floor. If a mold ever breaks, the master can be used to create a new one.

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Liquid silicone

Here, a worker pours silicone into a mold. As it cools, it'll harden into a pliable, skin-like material that makes up the doll's body.

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13 of 49 Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Customization

Once the dolls come out of the molds, the Abyss team hangs them up and begins the process of customizing them. This process can take months for each doll.

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Building a face

The most painstaking part of the process is putting the face together. Abyss starts with the skull.

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Skull choices

Different dolls have different facial structures, so Abyss makes a variety of synthetic skulls.

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16 of 49 Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Making progress

The skulls get fitted onto the dolls' bodies, but there's obviously still a lot of work to do.

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Mouth inserts

The next step is giving each skull a removable silicone mouth insert. They're realistic to look at, but even the teeth are rubbery and flexible. The tongue is a separate, double-sided insert -- you can flip it around for a different shape. Yes, the dolls get removable vaginas, too. 

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18 of 49 Ry Crist/CNET

Adding the face

With the mouth and skull in place, the dolls are ready to get their faces. The process is still far from finished, though.

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Face lab

This is the face lab, where a team of artists takes custom-molded, rubbery-looking masks and makes them into something much more realistic.

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Faces

Each face has its own complexion, features, makeup, eyes, eyebrows, freckles and other details. You name it.

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A closer look

Like the bodies, each doll's face comes from a hand-sculpted mold.

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Sculpting the faces

Sculpting those faces is a painstaking process.

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Custom designs

Abyss says it can bring just about any custom design to life, and even incorporate fantasy elements, like elf ears. But the company draws the line at making dolls of children, animals or people who haven't given their expressed permission to be replicated, celebrity or otherwise.

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24 of 49 Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

How to make an eye

Abyss hand-makes each eye by layering layers of paint onto the iris.

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The eyes have it

The finished products are pretty stunning up close.

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The eyes

With the eyes in place, the finished dolls look incredibly lifelike, right down to the custom freckles. The artists at Abyss consider the eyes to be one of the most crucial parts of the doll design.

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27 of 49 Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Nipple designs

There's a lot of customization work to be done on each doll's body, too. Just take a look at all of the nipple options customers can choose from.

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Nipple molds

Like the bodies and faces, each nipple is made from a mold. Pour the silicone in, pop the nipple out.

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Ready for application

When finished, each set of nipples gets sent down to the production floor, where the team will apply them to the dolls in waiting.

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Prosthetic breasts

Abyss also makes a range of wearable prosthetic breasts for transgender customers and mastectomy patients.

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Hollywood background

Many Abyss designers have backgrounds in Hollywood special effects. This doll stands watch over the staircase that leads down to the production floor. She was used as a prop in the Bruce Willis sci-fi flick "Surrogates." Abyss also designed the titular doll in "Lars and the Real Girl," which stars Ryan Gosling as a man who develops a close companionship with a life-size doll.

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The CEO

This is Matt McMullen, founder, CEO and chief designer of Abyss Creations. McMullen started Abyss out of his garage in 1997 while an art student. Now, he's working to bring his creations to life using artificial intelligence.

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Robotic head

Soon, customers will be able to upgrade their existing dolls into robots by purchasing a robotic head for $10,000. Here's one without the face.

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Harmony unfaced

The AI platform is called Harmony, and it's already available as a standalone Android app for a yearly subscription fee. With it, users can create a virtual avatar of their doll (even if they don't have one), then customize the personality and start talking to it.

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Robot faces

The little metal circles on each robot skull are magnets -- they're what hold the interchangeable faces in place. If they want, customers can purchase extra faces for their robot and switch them out whenever they like.

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Customizable faces

Like everything else, the robot faces are completely customizable.

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Sex machina?

One of the eeriest moments of the tour: watching CEO McMullen bring his robotic skull to life in mere seconds by attaching the face. 

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Makes a big difference

In an instant, the doll looks alive and human.

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Animatronic faces

The robot heads are fully animatronic.  They can smile, talk, blink and move their eyes. Soon, McMullen hopes to add motion-tracking cameras to the eyes that'll let them follow you around the room and fully lock on you during conversation.

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Skullcap

With the face in place, McMullen adds a skullcap to hide the internal wiring.

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Wig

Finally, he gives her a wig. This robotic RealDoll is now fully assembled.

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Shipping

Once you make a purchase, Abyss will design and assemble your doll, then pack it into a human-sized wooden crate for shipping.

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Body customization

Those who just have the Harmony app can fully customize their avatar's appearance. 

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Virtual wardrobe

You can customize what your avatar wears, too.

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Undressing?

In the current version of the app, the avatar won't strip for you, no matter how close the two of you get. Abyss plans to change that in a future update.

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Persona points

Also customizable: the avatar's personality. The app gives you 10 "persona points" to assign to traits like "intellectual," "sexual" and "shy."

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Chatting with Harmony

Once you've picked out a personality, you'll be ready to start chatting. You can talk or type, whichever you prefer.

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Choosing a voice

You can also customize your avatar's voice, complete with adjustable speed and pitch.

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Harmony

This doll is one of the very first fully functional sex robots Abyss has ever produced. Could a faux human like this be your future lover? 

For more on Harmony AI and RealDolls, check out our in-depth feature on our visit to the Abyss Creations factory.

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