Marc Teyssier

Someone Made An Eye-Shaped Webcam That Blinks And Looks Around

Ryan Ford

Working from home has its benefits: you can't beat the commute, the dress code is pretty flexible, and the kitchen always seems to have your favorite snacks stocked — and if it doesn't, you know exactly who to blame.

That said, it's also not all it's cracked up to be, either. When you work from home, you're pretty much always at work. Achieving any kind of work-life balance is a big struggle.

And the lack of human contact? Well, one researcher has an idea for that, but we're not sure it's for everyone.

Video calls have kept workers in touch with each other during the pandemic, but they're not quite the same as being able to meet in person.

Marc Teyssier

That's one of the reasons Marc Teyssier and his team at the Saarland University's Human-Computer Interaction Lab developed the Eyecam, a webcam designed to mimic a human eye.

"Human eyes are crucial for communication. Through the look, we can perceive happiness, anger, boredom or fatigue," Teyssier's website reads. "We are familiar with these interaction cues influencing our social behavior. 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. Eyecam brings back the affective aspects of the eye in the camera."

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But Eyecam isn't just a disturbingly realistic disembodied eye that sits atop your monitor.

Marc Teyssier

It also performs actions like a real eye, looking around the room, looking at you, and blinking.

When it looks up, the eyelid reacts as a real eyelid would, for example, and the eyebrow can move as well; it also reacts to what's going on around it.

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Not only does Teyssier want us to think about eye contact and communication with Eyecam, but also our relationship with tech.

Marc Teyssier

Eyecam stands out like a sore thumb with an eyeball in the end of it for a reason.

"We are surrounded by sensing devices. From surveillance camera observing us in the street, Google or Alexa speakers listen to us or webcam in our laptop, constantly looking at us," Teyssier's website reads. "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."

"What are the implications of their presence on our behavior? This Anthropomorphic webcam highlights the potential risks of hiding devices functions and challenges conventional devices design."

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Teyssier and his team have no illusions about Eyecam being adopted in offices worldwide.

Marc Teyssier

"Eyecam is uncanny, unusual, weird. Its goal is to spark speculations on devices aestheticism and functions," the website reads. "We challenge conventional relationships with sensing devices and call to re-think how sensing devices might appear and behave. Inspired by critical design, Eyecam allows for critical reflections on the [device's] functionalities and their impact on human-human and human-device relations. This [opens] up a debate on plausible and implausible ways future sensing devices might be designed."

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And it is worth thinking about.

Teyssier is right that tech that purposely doesn't stand out is all around us, observing us just like this artificial eye, but completely dispassionately, and the more of it that's out there, the less and less we're aware of it.

What do you think of Teyssier's Eyecam? Does it work to spark a discussion or reflection on human-tech relations? Is it just too weird? Let us know in the comments!

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