Researcher builds horrible eyeball webcam that blinks, squints, and stares at you as you work

Marc Teyssier, who designed the device, hopes to raise questions about privacy and surveillance

Adam Smith
Tuesday 13 April 2021 17:05
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A designer has developed a webcam with synthetic flesh and a human eyeball that can blink, look around, and express emotions.

The Eyecam, a project from Marc Teyssier who previously built ‘artificial skin’ that could make smartphones ticklish, reproduces the physical, unconscious behaviour that a human being does when looking at something.

The webcam is intended in part as a demonstration of the ease with which people give up their privacy, and how the full extent of that intrusion might only be revealed by being watched by something like our own eyes.

“Eyecam is always blinking and the eyelids dynamically adapt to movements of the eyeball: when Eyecam looks up, the top eyelid opens widely while the lower one closes completely. Eyecam can be autonomous and react on its own to external stimuli, such as the presence of users in front of it”, Teyssier’s website explains.

Practically, the eyecam is very similar to a standard webcam. It connects to a computer via a Raspberry Pi Zero, and has a 720p webcam inside it. Six servo-motors reproduce the different eye movements, such as up and down actions, the eyelids closing and opening, and its singular eyebrow moving – all managed by an Arduino Nano circuit board.

The idea is to draw attention to the similarities of human beings and machines. The uncanny eyeball relies on computer-vision algorithms to process images, detect features, and interpret information.

In fact, artificial intelligence is designed on the human brain for exactly that reason, and is why the technology behind it – neural networks – reflect the parthways in the brain.

By making these implicit ideas more visible, Teyssier hopes to spark greater debate about the nature of technology and surveillance in society.

Some of the questions posed on the website include whether surveillance devices should be transparent or invisible, how users should be able to tell when they’re being watched, and how smart devices can be active when they are needed but inactive when they are not.

In conjunction with the webcam is a study from Saarland University’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab, examining how the anthropomorphisation of such a familiar device - the webcam - makes abstract concepts more tangible and illustrative.

“To create a contrast to the current trend of increasingly unobtrusive sensing devices, we aimed to learn from the opposite, a clearly ‘seeing’ device”, the study states.

“Eyecam’s exaggeration renders the so-called privacy paradox visible: when prompted, most people would self-report higher levels of privacy concern than indicated by their behaviour, culminating in the statement “It’s Creepy, But It Doesn’t Bother Me.”

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