EyeTap: Steve Mann’s Revolutionary Device


The EyeTap project is a revolutionary device that promises to revolutionize the way people see the world. This device has been in development for over 30 years, and since its inception, it has become more advanced than ever before. The EyeTap project was pioneered by Steve Mann – an artist who wore his EyeTap prototype for 8 hours every day after developing it in 1985.

During its inception and early years of existence, this technology mainly consisted of sunglasses with small circuit boards attached on either side of them. However, as time passed so did other eye tap devices which allowed users to experience augmented reality through cameras and computers alike while also providing visual feedback from wearable sensors such as GPS units. This mediated reality is far different from an Oculus,  as it allows for a real-time computer-generated overlay on the world as you experience it, rather than being made up of pixels and images that are all contained within a physical headset. While this technology is not yet available to everyday consumers – many academics have been working with eye tap devices in order to provide richer experiences through their mobile phones.

The EyeTap is a wearable computer gadget that functions as both a camera and display for the user’s eye, recording what he or she can see while also displaying pictures taken from the original scene. This method allows the user’s eye to function as both a screen and a camera because it absorbs everything in its field of vision and adds a digital overlay on top of what the user sees, allowing it to superimpose computer-generated data onto real life.

EyeTap uses splitter to transmit the same scene (with less intensity) to both the eye and camera to capture what the eye sees as faithfully as possible. The camera’s reflected image is digitized and sent to the computer, becoming a digital picture. The computer analyzes the picture, then transmits it to the projector. The screen is illuminated from the projector, which reflects the picture to the other side of the beam spot so that it may be mapped onto reality. Many R&D prototypes (usually for ease of manufacture) just press one eye, while stereo EyeTaps project light passing through both eyes.

EyeTap was invented by Canadian professor Steve Mann in 1998. He has worn the device continuously since 1982, only removing it for short periods of time to recharge its batteries or when he is sleeping. As well as augmenting his own reality with computing information, EyeTaps have been used to study how others view him and interact with him. The EyeTap can be linked up to software that automatically takes screenshots at regular intervals (typically every few seconds) which are then incorporated into a visual diary representing what Professor Mann sees through the eyepiece on a typical day.

In the image above, a man is wearing an EyeTap in front of his right eye.

Blind photographer Arun Blake and Steve Mann, trying out Eyetap in Steve’s Toronto lab in the spring of 2004