It’s a fact: eyes are spooky, a Halloween staple. If eyes are windows to the soul, then fake eyes are windows to the Uncanny Valley.
There’s been a recurring theme of graphical blinking eyes in Adafruit projects. It’s practically a Halloween tradition each year, revisiting and evolving an earlier eyes project into something more realistic or more easily customized. It became the whole focus of two subscription boxes: Adabox 009: HALLOWING and Adabox 013: MONSTER M4SK.
We were tickled then to finally see this style of eyes appearing in big-box-store Halloween items in 2020. It makes perfect sense…electronic eyes are more reactive than the mechanical equivalent, and can benefit from automated assembly and ever-cheaper components.
First to bat are some large yard animatronics sold by Home Depot, where they’ve trademarked the feature as “LifeEyes™.” It was obvious from the product photos and videos that someone involved in the design was at least aware of our work: the skeleton’s eyes borrow some graphics — the pattern of veins is an exact match, and I know the original graphics didn’t come from a third source…I took photos of a friend’s eyes myself. I was curious to see if the similarities ended there, or whether they also adopted some our code, and how something like this gets streamlined for mass manufacturing. Ordered the werewolf to experiment on…it’s both cheaper and fits in the house better than the skeleton…and I’ve been on a werewolf bender lately.
…Also learned that Costco has a similarly-priced offering in the shape of a dragon!
Photo credit: Costco.
But wait…can they do that? Aren’t you angry / going to sue? They took your idea!
Yes they can do that, and no, not at all!
First, it’s not even an original idea…intellectual property rules might even call it an “obvious invention,” bound to come up when you have eye-sized displays. AIBO and Furby have used LCD eyes for some years now. Ours evolved from an earlier project with LED matrices, itself a well-trodden sci-fi trope.
Second, Adafruit is an open source company. Whenever possible, we use very permissive open source licenses, allowing code and related materials to be used in others’ designs, even commercial ones, within some sensible rules. Quite a few projects have openly built on our work, it’s generally allowed and we don’t discourage it.
As an engineering education company, we make great kits and offer parts. We don’t sell ready-made Halloween decorations, fun as they are, in the same way that, say, Apple doesn’t make toaster ovens: it would only be a distraction from our core focus, it’s not “lost profits.” So we’re cool that someone else does, and happy if our stuff helps. A candle is not diminished by giving another candle light.
So let’s get inside and see how it’s made and how it works…