Many tape up the webcam so as not to feel observed. Because cameras are getting smaller and less noticeable. Not so with the “Eyecam”.
A research team at Saarland University has developed a webcam that looks like a human eye. The design study is called “Eyecam” and is intended to question our relationship with so-called “sensing devices” such as webcams and voice assistants.
Is the Eyecam a belated April Fool’s joke?
At first glance, the Eyecam really looks like a joke. Also the promo video in which the eye camera – or the camera eye? – is presented does not give the impression that the project was meant seriously. Create a bond with the Eyecam? Caress her eyebrows and share them with other people?
On the contrary, behind the Eyecam is a research project that puts our use of the cameras and microphones that surround us in everyday life to the test.
Complex imitation of the human eye
The Eyecam is based on the human eye not only in appearance, but also in functionality. The camera can follow the other person in any direction and blinks. Even the eyelids and eyebrows are moved along with it. If the eye looks upwards, the upper lid opens completely while the lower lid closes.
The eye can also imitate human emotions. To do this, Eyecam changes the eyebrow in much the same way as humans would.
From a distance, the Eyecam looks quite realistic, with wrinkles in the skin, individual hairs in the eyebrows and lids. Even small veins can be seen in the sclera (also known as the “white skin of the eyes”).
Mini computers and parts from the 3D printer
The musculoskeletal system and electronics sit in a housing that is surrounded by the silicone skin. The camera is controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero, a mini-computer that is often used for such projects. The Eyecam is simply connected to a computer and recognized as a webcam.
The parts of the Eyecam come from the 3D printer – including the semicircular eye itself. The silicone cover is hand-made, the hair is inserted individually.
The project is completely open source, which means that the construction plans are available free of charge. Anyone who has access to a 3D printer can therefore recreate the Eyecam at any time.
Eyecam is part of a scientific work
Teyssier developed the Eyecam together with his team at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at Saarland University. The project is part of a scientific work entitled “Eyecam: Revealing Relations between Humans and Sensing Devices through an Anthropomorphic Webcam”.
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The researcher is of the opinion that “sensing devices” such as cameras and microphones have infiltrated our everyday lives so that we no longer even notice that they are there. Teyssier writes on the project page: “[We are surrounded] by surveillance cameras that watch us on the street, Google and Alexa speakers listen to us”. The webcam in our laptop is also constantly watching us and we wouldn’t even notice it anymore. The Eyecam is supposed to be the exact opposite of this. The camera should attract attention and make it clear that it is following the other person at every turn.