Today’s webcams are mostly invisible. They’re hidden stealthily behind smooth black glass on our laptops and phones. Thirty years ago, they were novelties used by techies and Silicon Valley types. Even just a few years ago, they were a separate peripheral device that sat on top of your computer like a little bauble eye. Now, they mostly go unnoticed, until someone hacks them. How would your relationship to the ubiquitous webcam change if it stared at you all day from a fleshy, freaky little disembodied robotic eye socket instead?
The Eyecam is an eyeball and brow that blinks, rolls, winces and stares at you while you’re at your computer. No one asked for this, but here it is.
Interaction designer and researcher Marc Teyssier, along with a research team at Saarland University Human-Computer Interaction Lab in Germany, created the Eyecam out of a combination of robotics, sculpted silicone, and human hairs. It uses six servo motors to replicate eye muscles so it can look around and squint or snap its eyelids shut. It’s controlled with an Arduino Nano, and a high-resolution camera inside the pupil, connected to a Raspberry Pi Zero, can recognize faces.
“We are surrounded by sensing devices, up to the point we are unaware of their presence and we stop questioning their form and how (or if) they work,” Teyssier said. “This project highlights the privacy issues of sensing devices; is it watching? Is it listening? Are you really sure?”
The weirdest part of this thing is how it emotes. It does a lot with just an eyebrow and eyelid; it can look sleepy, bored, startled, impassive, angry—all while you’re just trying to take a Zoom call.
The instructions to make your own Eyecam are available as an open-source tutorial on Github. “I want people to experience it,” Teyssier said. “Seeing a video and having it looking at you is not the same feeling.”