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Tag: conference call

Fix your “webcam eye contact” issues with this incredible new “swivel camera” laptop idea! Your conference calls will feature totally natural and not-at-all-unsettling eye contact from now on.

Background:

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.

The issue:

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.

Proposal:

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!

2-laptop-eye-direction.png

Fig. 1: Left: a normal laptop camera. Even though the chat participants are both making eye contact with the image on their screens, they are actually looking down from the perspective of the top-mounted camera. Right: now that the camera has been “swiveled” to the center of the screen, the chat participants are making eye contact in a natural manner.

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).

Related Idea:

See also: the laptop camera prism idea for including multiple people on a single machine on a conference call.

Solve your conference call woes with this one insane tip! Never lean your head weirdly in front of a laptop camera again. FINALLY.

The issue:

During a conference call, it can be difficult to position multiple people in such a way that everyone is actually in-frame.

Usually, either:

  1. Only one person fits into the frame, or:
  2. Everyone is extremely far from the camera, so 95% of the screen area is taken up by a conference table.

Figure 1 illustrates this common scenario.

conference-call-1-without-prism.png

Fig. 1: When multiple people are sharing a laptop during a conference call, usually the video looks like the example on right, where only one person is actually fully visible.

Proposal:

An inexpensive prism can fix this problem once and for all (Figure 2). A prism can be placed directly in front of the camera to split the image into multiple horizontally-spaced parts.

Now everyone can participate in the conference call without needing to move the camera around!

conference-call-2-with-prism

Fig. 2: The prism attachment makes it easy to fit everyone into frame. The prism could attach to the camera by means of either a magnetic clip or some sort of suction cup (probably the best solution for laptop screens).

PROS: Encourages conference call participation by people other than whoever happens to be directly in front of the camera.

CONS: Might result in an unflattering “fun house mirror” effect in the final image. (Although this could be fixed in software, or by a more complicated prism setup.)

Save hours on any teleconferenced meeting with this one weird tip that will drive you to the brink of gibbering insanity!

Background & The Issue In Question:

Teleconferencing can be a useful tool. However, it can also make it easy to schedule endless meetings where 90% of the participants have nothing to do.

Unfortunately, it is often the case where these additional participants are obligated to be on the call for various reasons.

Proposal: Proxy meeting attendees

The basic idea is to hire a person to pretend to be you during the conference.

Obviously, there is a problem here, in that the proxy will not sound the same as you (unless you happen to sound exactly like a robot).

But it can still be arranged so that no one is the wiser. First, the theoretically-intended teleconference attendee must record a series of audio clips of them saying common things. For example:

  • “This is YOUR_NAME, I’m on the call.” Note: do not actually say the literal word “YOUR_NAME” or the gig will be up.
  • “I agree.”
  • “Great idea, boss.”
  • “Fantastic idea, boss.”
  • “That’s the best idea I’ve heard in a while, boss.”
  • “Ok.”
  • “Uh-huh.”
  • “Yep.”
  • “Yup.”
  • “Yeap.”
  • “Yerp.”
  • “Yarp.”

This set of audio clips is then hooked up to a soundboard (a keyboard—probably a virtual one—where each keypress plays a specific audio clip), which the proxy can use to respond to questions on your behalf. See Figure 1.

tele-buttons-great

Fig 1: Generally, most responses can be short and agreeable. The soundboard sample above contains only four of the possible dozens of things that the meeting attendance proxy can say.

There is one serious problem: it is unlikely, but the person who is being represented by the proxy may be asked a difficult question that the proxy has no way to reply to.

To solve this situation, we will add a “panic button” to the soundboard. This button will play a prerecorded message indicating that there is an emergency situation requiring disconnection from the conference call.

The proxy will then notify the actual attendee (who is presumably on standby for just such a situation). Then the actual attendee can call right back in and answer the question correctly.

tele-buttons-question

Fig 2: If there’s some question that your teleconference-proxy can’t field, the proxy will press the panic button (labeled with a “?”) to disconnect with a pre-recorded socially-appropriate message (“Oh, I’m losing my connection.” “Dang, a crocodile is chewing on my leg.” etc…).

Conclusion:

This is a great idea that will improve the lives of both the office workers in question and the call-center employees who will work as proxies.

PROS: This proposal could save over a billion hours of meeting time every year, allowing office workers to view over 100 billion additional cat videos per year, and possibly contributing to the GDP due to the increased ad revenue on those cat videos.

CONS: Results not guaranteed. May result in job loss.