Many people have seen horror flicks where a computer gets taken over by a hacker with nefarious intentions, who then uses the webcam to spy on and perhaps terrorize the device’s owner. However, the frightening reality is that this isn’t fiction confined to scary movies.
A couple of years ago, an Ohio man was charged by the federal government for hacking people’s cameras and microphones to steal personal information and record audio and video. Despite knowing the threat exists, many people still forget to turn off their microphones and webcams when not in use, or at least cover them up.
A company has set out to keep that important information in the forefront of people’s minds, with the Eyecam, a prototype anthropomorphic webcam that actually looks and moves like a real human eye. Created by Marc Teyssier, the Eyecam has what looks like flesh around it and even an eyebrow and eyelashes. It can look around autonomously, moving like a real human eyeball, and expresses emotions such as happiness, boredom, fatigue, and anger.
Teyssier’s purpose behind creating the Eyecam was to cause people to think about the “past, present, and future of technology.” Smart devices like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and even smartphones have surreptitiously integrated themselves into people’s daily lives, observing and sometimes even recording the world around them, their presence forgotten by their owners. “I believe that if every device’s working state and functions were explicit, it would [be] better for end users [and] privacy issues will be highlighted,” explained Teyssier in an interview.
The inventor goes on to explain that he wants people to experience the “weird” and even uncomfortable feeling of having something looking at them all day long, because that’s the reality these days, even if people don’t consciously think about it. “What is the balance between mediation and intrusion?” Teyssier questioned. “How can we reinforce privacy and show the user they are being watched?”
The Eyecam is not for sale; it was created as a “speculative design object.” However, the specifications for how to make one are open source, and the component hardware can be purchased for around 25 dollars. The device is composed of six servo-motors that are used to realistically recreate the way a human eye, eyelid, and eyebrow move. Algorithms control the Eyecam, allowing the device to operate either in a more utilitarian manner or an autonomous one.
A further benefit of the Eyecam is that it gives people something to look at. Especially in the past year, the world has become a place of video conferencing and Zoom calls, but many people find it awkward or unnatural to talk to a webcam. Yet not making “eye contact” disrupts that feeling of connection created when people talk face to face, looking into each other’s eyes. The Eyecam can perhaps ease that discomfort and help people more easily look at the camera lens while engaging with others.
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