Engineers have created a creepy prototype webcam shaped just like the human eye, called the Eyecam.
Inspired by animatronics, Eyecam attaches to the front of a computer monitor and looks left and right – and even blinks – while tracking the face of each individual during a video call.
At first glance, it looks scarily realistic, right down to the wrinkles in the skin, the individual hairs that make up the eyebrows and the red vessels over the white of the eye.
Eyecam – which is comprised of motors surrounded by 3D-printed silicone – is open source, meaning you could create your own version at home.
Scroll down for video
Most webcams are too small to be seen – but it’s unlikely you’ll have the same problem with Eyecam, which has been created because ‘eyes are crucial for communication’
Eyecam has been created by Marc Teyssier and his team at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at Saarland University, Germany.
Modelled on human physiology, it’s is composed of three main parts – the skin layer, the (robotic) musculoskeletal system and the eyeball.
A small camera is positioned inside the pupil, sensing a high-resolution image. This camera is connected to a Raspberry Pi Zero and is detected by the computer as a conventional plug-and-play webcam.
Like a human, Eyecam is always blinking and the eyelids dynamically adapt to movements of the eyeball, according to Teyssier.
‘When Eyecam looks up, the top eyelid opens widely while the lower one closes completely,’ he says. ‘Eyecam can be autonomous and react on its own to external stimuli, such as the presence of users in front of it.’
Eyecam is a research project developed and built by Marc Teyssier (pictured holding the device). This research was conducted during his time at Saarland University Human-Computer Interaction Lab
At first glance, it looks scarily realistic, right down to the wrinkles in the skin, the individual hairs that make up the eyebrows and the red vessels over the white of the eye
Marc Teyssier says on his website : ‘Eyecam is a webcam shaped like a human eye. It can see, blink, look around and observe you’
Teyssier says on his website that sensing devices are so ubiquitous, up to the point that we become unaware of their presence.
Computer webcams have become smaller and smaller in the last 20 years, and most are now a small barely noticeable circle embedded into the top of the device.
Other devices that have recording equipment embedded – such as security cams for the smart home – are now deliberately designed to blend into their surroundings.
Eyecam has been designed to do quite the opposite – indeed, it would give anyone who came across it something of a shock.
‘We are surrounded by sensing devices,’ Teyssier says on his website.
‘From surveillance camera observing us in the street, Google or Alexa speakers listen to us or webcam in our laptop, constantly looking at us.
‘They are becoming invisible, blending into our daily lives, up to a point where we are unaware of their presence and stop questioning how they look, sense and act.’
Human eyes are crucial for communication – so Eyecam could help users maintain eye contact during their daily video calls.
The eye part has been printed with some incredible detail, from the colours in the iris and vessels in the sclera (the white of the eye)
Modelled on human physiology, Eyecam is composed of three main parts – the skin layer, the (robotic) musculoskeletal system and the eyeball
Interested in building one for yourself? Eyecam’s open source repository contains all the files needed to reproduce the device, from the 3D-printed hardware parts to the control software
‘While webcams share the same purpose as the human eye – seeing – they are not expressive, not conveying and transmitting affect as the human eyes do,’ Teyssier says.
‘Through the look, we can perceive happiness, anger, boredom or fatigue. The eyes move around when someone is curious and took straight to maintain focus.
‘We are familiar with these interaction cues influencing our social behaviour. Eyecam brings back the affective aspects of the eye in the camera.’
I see you! Eyecam tracks the face of a person in the vicinity and is compatible with popular video call platforms including Zoom
Teyssier and his colleagues write: ‘Eyecam comprises an actuated eyeball with a pupil replaced with a camera, actuated eyelids and actuated eyebrows whose combined movements enable human-like behaviours’
Like a human, Eyecam is always blinking and the eyelids dynamically adapt to movements of the eyeball. Teyssier says: ‘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’
The skin layer was molded in pigmented silicone and ‘augmented’ with hair implants to generate a human-like appearance. Pictured are different-coloured skin castings