As a kid, Toronto filmmaker Rob Spence played with a “Six Million Dollar Man” action figure. At 43, he’s turned himself into a real-life version of the bionic hero.
A shotgun accident at age 9 (he held the gun incorrectly, against his eye, while shooting a pile of cow dung) left him legally blind in one eye. Twenty-six years later, Spence had the eye removed and got the idea to replace it with a camera.
“Literally everybody [said] it as a joke — people doing the surgery say, ‘Oh, you should get an eye camera.’ The idea is so out-there in pop culture and science fiction,” he tells The Post.
Spence — who calls himself the Eyeborg — is featured in Thursday’s episode of the new Showtime true-life series “Dark Net,” which examines the fringes of society where virtual and physical lives collide. In Spence’s case, as a documentarian, his eye-cam gives him the ability to conduct intimate interviews without the intrusion of bulky lenses or camera crews.
“It’s the same deal as ‘Taxicab Confessions’ — you get amazing footage if you get the release form after you do the interview,” he says.
The technology raises ethical questions, however — just as it did with Google Glass, which failed to gain traction due to privacy and safety concerns about the ability to record anyone and everyone within eyesight.
“The two reactions are, ‘Wow, that’s so cool’ — and, after a few moments’ reflection, ‘but that’s so creepy,’ ” Spence says. “I’ve actually started wondering, do we want to have constant video of our lives? It’s just another data set. And I don’t know the answer, but I think no, we don’t want that. But it’s coming anyway.”
Spence’s eye-cam resembles a regular eye prosthesis, embedded with a camera that is equipped with a micro radio-frequency transmitter. The camera is not connected to the optic nerve — meaning Spence can’t see out of it. Rather, what the “eye” sees is visible on a handheld monitor, and Spence can turn the camera on and off with the tap of a magnet.
There is one kink to be worked out before it’s fully ready for real field work, however.
“When the eye increases in temperature, which it does when I put it in the eye socket, the frequency of the video transmission increases slightly . . . [so we] can’t find the video signal,” he explains.
For now, Spence can get about one to three minutes of shooting time before the eye-cam overheats, so he’s selective about how he employs it. Professionally, he’s used it to film other people’s bionic arms and legs for a commissioned documentary about prostheses and cybernetics. But he’s also been goofing around, like when he attempted some “cyborg comedy” at a Toronto bar’s open-mike night.
Once the eye-cam gets to the point where it can film for hours at a time — which Spence anticipates will be within months — he envisions taking advantage of the microlens for film projects with an emotional subject.
“[Like] asking somebody what . . . they think about love, but really look in their eyes,” he says. “If you’re looking at somebody or especially get into eye contact a little bit, then it can get awkward, but interesting, and go a little further that way.”