Until recently, the only way to look someone directly in the eye during a video call was to physically hold up a camera to your face and try to match their gaze. But most people aren’t able to hold the camera up to their screen, and even those who can often end up looking like they’re staring into the lens of a killer robot clone or a Pixar lamp that squished its “i.”
So now there’s Center Cam, an adjustable webcam that can sit over your monitor so that you can maintain direct eye contact without actually having to hold it in place. The center screen camera uses a specialized lens that can move to focus on your monitor’s middle screen, where most of the action is. This helps you connect with people who are using the same software as you, bridging the uncanny valley and making them feel more real and honest.
The idea for the product came to founder Josh Foster when he was chatting with clients over Skype. He realized that while he was able to talk with them, it was hard to make eye contact because the cameras on most laptops and some desktops don’t let you look right up at your monitor. “I started to think about what I could do to create a better experience,” he says, and that’s how Center Cam was born.
It’s a tiny camera that attaches to your monitor via a flexible tube that stretches up to the top of your screen. It takes a little work to set up, but after that the only thing you need to do is plug it in and start using your computer. It works with a variety of video apps, including FaceTime, which is built into iOS, and it’s compatible with Macs that have a Studio Display or USB-C ports.
You can turn it on and off during a video call, and you can also adjust the focus manually with a slider on the app. But it’s not going to be as simple as a regular webcam, and you may have to manually move it into place before each call and then bend it back or remove it altogether when you’re not using it.
The device is still in the prototype stage, but it’s already been tested by people with different types of jobs—from a lawyer to a comedian. The goal is to have it available by summer 2022. You can pre-order a kit starting at $349, or you can buy just the camera itself for $299. The company says it’s going to focus on a few more improvements before it launches, and it will eventually offer versions that can be mounted on a desk or a tablet. It’s not the cheapest solution to the uncanny valley, but it might be one of the most effective. And it’s definitely less expensive than a professional-grade head-tracking headset. Whether it’s for teleprompter presentations, remote meetings or a tele-therapy session, it might be just what you need to get more genuine connection with people online.