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Holographic Displays, Robot Eyes Hint at Your Interactive Future

• Priya Ganapati via WIRED
The eyes may be the window to the soul. But what do you see when you look into robotic eyes so real that it’s almost impossible to tell they are just empty, mechanical vessels?

At Siggraph, the annual conference for graphics geeks that ended last week, Disney researchers created an animatronic eye that moves in a lifelike way, makes eye contact and tracks those who pass by.

“We wanted two things from the eye,” says Lanny Smoot, senior research scientist at Disney Research. “It should be able to see or have vision, and it should move as smoothly and fluidly as the human eye.”

The animatronic eye was one of the 23 exhibits in the emerging-tech section of the conference.

“Each year there’s always been some consistent themes,” says Preston Smith, emerging-tech chair at Siggraph 2010. “But this year there hasn’t been one thing that has leapt out in front of others.”

Instead a variety of technologies jostled for attention: new 3-D display technologies, augmented reality and robotics. Siggraph 2010 showed research not just from universities but also from corporate labs, including Disney's and Sony's.


A Seeing Eye

Disney Research’s animatronic eye is relatively simple in its design. The eye has a transparent-plastic inner sphere with a set of magnets around it, painted to look just like a human eye. It is suspended in fluid and has a transparent outer shell. Using electromagnets from the outside, the eye is moved sideways or up and down, giving it a smooth and easy motion.

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