Prosthetics: What are you looking at, Eyeborg?

5. October 2011

In North America a revolution is imminent: A one-eyed film director wants to replace his artificial eye with a bionic camera. Now he is looking for a female partner with a prosthetic leg who wants to play paintball, in order to make the film of the century.

That there are people who like it when other people watch them “living out their own day-to-day existence” is something that we have known at least since reality TV came to be. The Internet took over this aged television format by now, as is generally well known: so-called “Lifecasters” have made it their mission to capture every possible moment of their lives, or at least one phase of life, on camera, and to feed the images into the web. The problem in such projects is that most lives, at least from the perspective of the viewer, are mind-numbingly boring when they are extended over real-time – unless one does something really unusual.

Eyeborg is watching you

Canadian director Rob Spence intends to do such an unusual thing: During a visit to Ireland at the age of thirteen, he lost an eye as a result of playing around with a gun belonging to his grandfather. Since then, he has been blind on one side. Several years ago as he was having an artificial eye implanted, he did not want to be the only one living it and decided to make a film about the surgery, which he then put on the Internet. So far, so normal. Somehow, the prosthesis was not enough for him, even though it is virtually indistinguishable from a real eye. Spence wondered if he couldn’t make something more purposeful with the hole in his face other than just fill it with a fake eye.

As a filmmaker, the decision was made quickly: Spence wants to become the first man on earth in whom a camera is inserted into the artificial eye, which he can wirelessly operate at any time and with which he, if he wants, could record every step he takes in his life. It’s not a matter at all of him having artificial sight: The camera will not be connected to his nerve cells. Spence’s goal is much more to be a bionic man, whose senses and skills are usefully complemented by technology – in this case by a tiny camera. He wants to document the journey there in a film. At present there are preparations going on for this. Spence has christened the entire idea The Eyeborg Project. In order to allow the world to follow his path to the Eyeborg, he has set up a blog that contains not only information but also a whole lot of pictures and videos.

Challenge of miniaturisation

One would think that to install a camera in an artificial eye nowadays is no great art. After all, modern mobile phones in some cases now already contain several cameras. But the space in an artificial eye is quite clearly more limited in size than in a mobile phone, especially when one considers that, in addition to optics, energy supply and a wireless module of course also need to be accomodated. And what comes out at the end should, of course, still look like an artificial eye, and not like one of the many camera-enhanced glasses which have over time become available. Spence wants to have neither technical devices sitting on his nose nor wires hanging out of his face. The camera should be hidden. In order to make progress here, the director is getting help from experts such as Professor Steve Mann, director of EyeTab Personal Imaging Lab at the University of Toronto. He is a leading expert in portable computing (even if he does provide a surprisingly old-fashioned homepage). In any case, Mann wants to support Spence from a technical perspective. He also has an optician on board. In the near future there should at least be a first prototype eye with a discrete mini camera ready.

Wanted: Lara Croft with one leg

Spence does happen to be an artist, and as such he also has, with his entire project, an agenda. For him it is not a matter of technology for technology’s sake. He wants among other things to create awareness about the increase in surveillance in public space and, via the fact that he transmits live images from the most human of all perspectives, without any of it being detected, to sharpen consciousness to the issue of monitoring. Of course he also does not want to behave like a classic Lifecaster and transmit every minute of his life. What he has in mind is the conscious switching on and off of the camera, which he also then, in the context of his art, presents and explains.

In regard to the planned documentary about his project, Spence is currently still conducting a search for the main female role. His directing experience has obviously taught him that films in which lonely men considered weird do strange things will not necessarily become a hit with the public. He wants for that reason to also get a woman on board, and he has put together a few requirements for his partner, which would not be so be easy to meet. A woman is being sought who has lost a leg and would be willing have a kind of machine-gun prosthesis built, with which she can play paintball (This is the pseudo-sport, in which adult people shoot at – that is, mark – each other with paint). Spence already sees a key scene of his film vividly before his eyes: Lady Cyborg with the Paintball prosthesis takes apart an entire professional paintball team, “filmed in Robert Rodriguez-style”.

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