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This webcam dares to ask: what if the panopticon had flesh?

This webcam dares to ask: what if the panopticon had flesh?


Gaze long into the webcam, the webcam gazes also into you

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A hunk of synthetic flesh with an eyeball and eyebrow, plopped on top of a screen where a webcam would go. The eye is looking to the left.
Oh boy.
Image: Marc Teyssier

Many digital eyes and ears are on us as we move about our daily lives. Surveillance cameras watch us on the street and smart devices listen for us in our homes. What if some of that watching happened through an expressive simulacrum of a human eye?

Researcher Marc Teyssier took it upon himself to craft such a device, giving a webcam synthetic flesh and a moving eyeball, complete with brow and lashes. Observe: the Eyecam.

A person’s hand tenderly holding a chunk of synthetic flesh with an eyeball in it glancing to the right. There’s a cord coming from the back of it.
Image: Marc Teyssier

You can see it in action – blinking, glancing, emoting – in the video below, which also commands us to use our imaginations:

Imagine Eyecam waking up on its own.

Imagine Eyecam observing every one of your steps.

Imagine Eyecam always being there ...

... even when you don’t want it to be there!

If you can get past the uncanny valley creepiness, it is a neat device. Watching the people in the video carry it around in their palms makes it look almost cute. And the project, part of research at the Saarland University Human-Computer Interaction Lab, does explore interesting questions. How would we interact with our devices if they were more human? How would our behaviors change if the surveillance around us felt that much more tangible?

If you’d like to make a watchful companion of your own, the Eyecam’s design and software are available on Github, and Teyssier promises a full step-by-step build video is in the works. More details are available at Teyssier’s website, along with a plethora of images at each stage of the build process.

Pieces of hardware and circuitry assembled in a square, at the bottom is what looks like plastic eyelids on hinges.
Eyecam’s innards.
Image: Marc Teyssier
Two hands, one braced at the bottom of a container, and the other pulling out a chunk of synthetic flesh with eyelids. The eyeball has not been inserted yet.
And its fleshy exterior.
Image: Marc Teyssier

If you’re in the mood to fall into a rabbit hole of eerie gadgets, there’s also Teyssier’s phone with a moving finger and flesh-covered phone case. When you’re sick of skin, check out Disney’s fleshless robot and this furry robot dog.