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PhotoBot watches for shots so you don't have to

Tommy Dykes' PhotoBot prototype.Tommy Dykes

British designer Tommy Dykes has created a small, robotic camera that constantly monitors the area around it, detecting nearby people and taking their picture. Part cute, part creepy, the appeal of the "PhotoBot" is easy to see.

Dykes designed the device during his ongoing work in graduate school; he'd like it, or something like it, to be a replacement for the average point-and-shoot camera used for party and event photos.

Its swiveling "head" uses an ultrasonic rangefinder to locate people and quickly snap a picture, which is then displayed on its "body" for instant feedback. Ultrasonic focusing is quick for close-range photography and means no fancy image sensor or processor is required.

You can see videos of the PhotoBot in action on Vimeo here and here.

The design is deliberately playful and anthropomorphic in order to defuse the sense of surveillance that comes naturally from knowing there is a camera in the room. Partygoers or whoever can see when the bot is looking at them, and when a picture has been taken, so there's no creepiness — aside from the somewhat unnerving "face."

So far Dykes has no plans to commercialize the device, and there's just the one prototype for now. But automatic picture-taking devices are gaining popularity, and while the few on the market today aren't quite ready for prime time, it probably won't be long before something the likes of PhotoBot graces your mantle or coffee table.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is