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Tag: periscope

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!

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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.

Never have your country’s submarines detected again, with this incredible Loch Ness monster-based top secret project.

Background:

Modern submarines use a periscope-like electronic camera (a “photonics mast.”) to view the world above the waves.

The issue:

The problem is twofold:

  1. If an adversary spots a periscope, there isn’t much doubt as to what’s under the waves: it’s a submarine (Figure 1).
  2. Periscope designs are apparently specific to each nation, so just seeing a periscope can be sufficient for an observer to determine what kind of submarine is lurking in the area.
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Fig. 1: Technically, this periscope (left) could be a pipe or really weird fish, but realistically, any observer is going to know it’s a submarine (right).

Proposal:

Fortunately, we can easily disguise the periscope (Figure 2) to remove these problems.

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Fig. 2: Here, we see a proposed periscope disguise. A submarine-observer who noticed this above the waves would assume that they had seen a sea serpent or Loch Ness monster, not a submarine.

The disguised periscope is more likely to be reported as a new discovery in cryptozoology (Figure 3), rather than a submarine.

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Fig. 3: Expectation vs. reality. A submarine could carry multiple periscope disguises if needed; sea serpent, white whale, unusually ugly bird, marooned sailor adrift on a raft, etc.

Conclusion:

There is one added bonus to this system: under normal circumstances, a submarine is not aware that its periscope has been seen. However, in this new system, it is possible that the periscope-observer might post their findings online (“wow, I just saw a Loch Ness monster at these GPS coordinates!!!”), and the submarine could then check the Internet to see if “Loch Ness monster sighted” was trending online and/or had been posted on any cryptozoology enthusiast web sites.

(If they find a post about the Loch Ness monster at their current GPS coordinates, it obviously means that the submarine’s position is no longer secret.)

PROS: Pretty much all of them.

CONS: May slightly increase submarine drag, thus reducing fuel efficiency.

Was your home’s scenic view obstructed by a new building next door? This issue is now solved, thanks to the “window periscope!” Homeowners, rejoice!

Background:

One of the most common complaints about nearby construction is the potential for new structures to block the views of existing residents.

The issue:

Existing residents in a neighborhood occasionally attempt to block nearby construction (often coming up with extremely implausible reasons as a smokescreen), when the real reason is that they just don’t want their current view blocked (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: The residents in the blue house at left had a nice view (across vacant lots that they, unfortunately, did not own) until nearby construction blocked it.

Proposal:

Fortunately, modern technology provides a solution that will satisfy the existing residents and allow new construction to proceed: the “window periscope” (Figure 2), a submarine-style periscope that elevates the view from a particular window.

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Fig. 2: Here, we see the solution: a “window periscope,” shown in red. This periscope consists of a set of mirrors that elevating the view above the roofline of the adjacent building, thus preserving the existing view.

Conclusion:

This is a great plan for suburbs and cities alike! It may pose a moderate engineering challenge due to high winds, moisture, and the difficulty of accessing such a structure for maintenance. But that will just create more jobs, so it’s really a plus. (For example, one could imagine a “chimney sweep”-style profession dedicated to maintaining these window periscopes.)

PROS: Preserves existing views even when new construction is placed right next door, thus reducing the amount of NIMBY-ism that frequently stalls construction.

CONS: May make it difficult or impossible to open the window. If this system becomes widespread, it could lead to an “arms race” of dueling taller and taller periscopes between adjacent buildings. Evidently this situation has historical precedent in the towers of San Gimignano, in Italy.

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Supplemental Figure S1: This photorealistic diagram shows the problem in a more abstract fashion.