Documentary filmmaker Rob Spence is on his way to becoming a superhero as, if all goes well, he will soon have an eye that acts as a camera. Realscreen spoke with Spence and engineer Kosta Grammatis about their Eyeborg Project, the logistics of wiring up a prosthetic eye as a camera and the similarities between Spence and Ironman.
If you visit Eyeborgproject.com you will see the beginnings of Toronto filmmaker Rob Spence’s latest work. Meant to be a documentary commenting on surveillance in today’s society, it is also the story of a man living with a bionic eye. ‘If you look at Ironman, it’s about the arms trade but really it’s about [protagonist] Tony Stark going on a personal journey. So that’s what this film is like,’ says Spence.
‘I have an origin much like any other superhero,’ he says of the incident that took away his right eye. He injured his eye as a child, shooting at a pile of cow dung. ‘Which I hit, by the way,’ says Spence.
Now as a documentary filmmaker – his previous work includes 2007′s Let’s All Hate Toronto – Spence is going on his own personal journey to see if he can turn his loss into a gain. ‘Initially, what I decided to do was fight for justice and see if I can become a human surveillance camera to provide a bit of balance against privacy encroachments that are happening now,’ he explains. ‘Like other superheroes people are more suspicious of me, the creep with the camera in his eye. It’s the classic superhero plot; the superhero becomes the villain as the public turns on us.’
As Spence battles against those who might question his motives, he continues to work with Grammatis who is building the eye, along with the help of a team of scientists and engineers including Steve Mann, who is best known for creating wearable computers, specifically glasses that allow him to be online at all times.
Grammatis joined the project after reading an article in Wired in which Spence said he was looking for engineers. Spence flew LA-based Grammatis to Toronto to help him work on the project and Grammatis has been building the eye camera while living in Spence’s guest bedroom for a month now.
‘It’s really difficult,’ says Grammatis about the logistics of wiring up a prosthetic eye with camera equipment. ‘We’re talking about state of the art, ‘world’s smallest’ stuff.’ Compact cameras, tiny transmitters and microscopic circuit boards are some of the technology the engineer is working with daily to make this camera eye a reality. ‘I might have a working one in my backpack right now,’ he told realscreen last Friday afternoon.
Right now, the project for Spence and his team is twofold. It’s about perfecting the eye camera and also looking for funding. Since going public with the Eyeborg Project, Spence has generated much publicity, which he hopes will prove there’s sufficient public interest in the story.