Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eyeborg lives! Bonus - Eye removal operation video

Hi my name is Rob Spence and I am making a documentary about changing my prosthetic eye into a wireless webcamera. Bionic Style!

Who am I? Well I was Mr Toronto in my last my film - Let's All Hate Toronto for CBC Newsworld in Canada.

Here is a trailer of my last film. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2x5bA05xYAU

Notice the eyepatch I am wearing. Not a fake! Now you know.

Want proof?

Here is a cool video that takes a quick look at an old 6 million dollar man clip (Steve checks out his new eye) then you see what happens with modern prosthetic eyes. WARNING! This is not for the weak of heart! The eye gets removed. Its a bit gross. That's really me in there getting his eye removed.

How did I lose the eye?

Just like Ralphy from Christmas story I shot my eye out.

I was 11 years old in Ireland at my grandfather's farm and messing around with my grandfather's shotgun - trying to shoot a pile of cowshit. I hit the cowshit btw but the gun backfired and severely injured my eye. Years later I had my eye removed (you can see it in the video above) and voila.

I will be talking about a prosthetic eye camera that I am building at a conference this Thursday in Monterey California. http://blog.6sight.com/2008/11/building-the-bionic-eye.html

6sight is a future imaging conference that has all kinds of high end small camera nerds in the cell phone imaging, facial recognition and web imaging application business.

Steve Mann is my partner on this project. He is an MIT grad, and an award winning cybernetics and electrical engineering professor at U of Toronto. His nickname? Cyberman.


He is well known for his pro-cyborg yet anti-Big Brother stance. He wears an external eye camera as a response to all the surveillance cameras filming us and believes in “equiveillance” or our right to surveil those who surveil us. This project has become more than a film. Building this camera eye is a first-of-its-kind project that requires world class engineering skill and we hope that it raises awareness about surveillance issues in general. We are even planning a conference which is something Mann has done with great success before. Professor Mann is not only qualified to build my eye, he has been researching and self-experimenting with issues of surveillance and cyborgization for years.


I am making a film about the process and am in development with the National Film board of Canada. Channel 4 in Britain is just about to say yes and give me lots of money though. Are you reading this Sandra Whipham?

Here is a synopsis of the film, its called Eye 4 an Eye:

Eye 4 an Eye is a quirky feature documentary that explores how we may be sleepwalking into a Big Brother, Orwellian surveillance society. By retrofitting my prosthetic eye into a wireless and web connected video camera I become a symbolic “Little Brother” media virus who goes on a cybernetic journey literally from my point of view. Similar to my last film Let’s All Hate Toronto, where Mr Toronto is a meta-character version of myself, I can manufacture dramatic arcs and character development in tandem with journalistic inquiry that has a healthy dose of satire.

In visual terms, like director Errol Morris, I too want direct eye contact but without an enormous distracting camera contraption. He uses something called an Interrotron that allows him to make eye contact with his interviewees. No need for me to use the bulky Interrotron!


Many scenes and cuts in my film, the most important ones, will literally be direct eye contact. Including blinking and glancing to the side.

Many documentaries have used secret cameras to shoot with and blend that footage with a more conventional camera. My eye camera footage will tend to come in fleetingly to illustrate points or for times when a standard camera is not possible. It will also be a B-camera that can be edited into a sequence with the main A-camera.

I might eyecam record the mess that I see when I go to a 3D movie. Something that I will never be able to watch again. A retinal chip recipient (whose implant restores rudimentary vision) could put the loss of one eye into perspective by reminding me that I didn’t lose vision – just stereo vision. I could intercut what they see of me, swaths and patterns of light, with what I see of them through my eye camera.

The accident I had began a journey that would lead me to add technology to my body and ask hard questions about Big Brother. I will take a shotgun and go back to my grandfather’s farm in Ireland, where I first injured my eye. I will dramatically blast a pile of cow manure without shooting my eye out. I will have come full circle and will finish the job I started as a boy as a grown man. I’ll film it with my new video eye but also with three other cameras for a multi-rendition like they do in Van Damme movies when Van Damme does his “final strike”.


lucas said...

Hey Rob. Just watched the video. It was pretty gnarly!

Good luck with the new movie. Sounds awesome.


BdC said...

Hi Rob,
Your idea is really original but what about the rights for privacy of people you are "filming" live with wour webcam-eye.
Everybody has the right to keep his life private, where he stands, work, eat, sleep, meet other, etc.
As long as you don't share this infor,ation or archive it, I don't see any problem, but as soon as you store this information, you will soon get in trouble.
Thierry, Luxembourg

Rob Spence Bionic Documentary Maker said...

Hmm, two comments. Tell that to Rodney King. Maybe those cops should have seen that someone was filming them beat the crap out of Rodney King. Or the guy who was being tased to death at Vancouver airport.

Second of all. My ethics as far as this goes is to follow Taxi Cab Confessions model.


They film people without them knowing they have been filmed. Then they tell the people and get a release form. You can't show an interview on a brodcast channel without the legal consent of the interviewee.

Valid point though and one I am conscious of.

Rob Spence Bionic Documentary Maker said...

By the way - do you know the rules and laws surrounding the hundreds of cameras that film you every day on the street, the gap, and the coffee shop you go to. If you are thinking harder about that then I have already done my job. This film is raise awareness about surveillance issues.

Here's an interesting dilemma. How would you feel if all surveillance cameras were broadcast to the internet?

How many Robert Dziekanski's (tased to death at Vancouver airport) have been killed when there was no "little brother" with a camera to post it on youtube?


Daniell said...

The video or privacy issues aren't my concern here .. I am more curious as to the development of a true bionic eye for the blind. Your microcam is essential but just the first step surely. For it to be complete would require a processing and output chip implanted into the visual cortex, and a wireless connection between the cam and the chip. Do you happen to know how that kind of tech is progressing? As far as I know the tech is still limited to electrodes stuck into the head, and cumbersome laptop processors worn around the waist. Is anyone progressing towards the real Steve Austin? - Thanks