Most laptops include a built-in camera, typically located just above the top edge of the screen.
This type of camera is generally marketed as a “video chat” or “conference call” camera.
When a person is on a video call, they tend to look at the image on the screen instead of directly at the camera. (Of course!)
So from the camera’s perspective—and the perspective of the remote video chat partner—the person using the webcam isn’t making eye contact, and is instead looking down semi-randomly.
We can solve the “video chat participant is not making eye contact” scenario by reducing the angle between the camera and the screen.
There are two straightforward ways to do this:
- Solution #1: Move the laptop much farther away, so the camera and display are at nearly the same angle from the video chatter’s perspective.
- Solution #2: Move the camera so that it is in front of the display. This is the solution we will be exploring.
Implementing Solution #1 is impractical with a laptop, since it (in most cases) needs to be relatively close to the user.
But Solution #2 is easy: we can put the camera on a swiveling arm and allow it to swing down to the middle of the screen (Figure 1).
Eye contact problems solved!
PROS: Solves the weird eye gaze issues inherent to video chatting.
CONS: Adds a new fragile plastic part to snap off your laptop.
Bonus Part 1: A simpler solution:
- Solution #3: The camera doesn’t actually have to move in order to have its viewpoint moved to the center of the display: the same result can be achieved with a small periscope (or fiber optic cable) that hangs on the laptop lid and redirects the camera view to the center of the screen.
One could imagine that such an aftermarket attachment could be manufactured extremely cheaply. Perhaps this is a good crowdfunding opportunity!
Bonus Part 2: Overly complicated solutions:
- Solution #4: Create a partially-transparent laptop screen and put the camera behind it. This would probably require a new and highly specialized LED panel manufacturing process.
- Solution #5: Edit the video feed in software, changing the user’s eyes in real time to always point directly at the screen. This is probably feasible, but it could be somewhat unsettling. (See also the related “touch up my appearance” face-smoothing feature on Zoom).
See also: the laptop camera prism idea for including multiple people on a single machine on a conference call.