Apple Delves Deeper Into Motion-Sensing Technologies With New Patents


Two recently published Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) patents uncovered by Apple Insider reveal that the California-based company is continuing to develop innovative new imaging and input technologies for its mobile devices and laptops. In the first patent, titled “Imaging Range Finding Device and Method,” Apple describes a system that uses “an array of emitters and photodetectors in optical communication with an imaging lens” to sense the size and location of objects.

Apple says the imaging range finder technology outlined in its patent is superior to currently available range finders because its system can employ multiple moveable lenses to compensate for “less ideal and variable object and environment conditions.” According to Apple Insider, the technology described in this patent is similar to the technology used by 3-D vision and motion-sensing technology company PrimeSense. Apple acquired the Israel-based company last year for approximately $360 million, according to sources cited by All Things D. Before being acquired by Apple, PrimeSense was best known for supplying the motion-sensing technology for Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox 360 Kinect system.

Per Apple, there are many uses for its imaging range finder technology, including “to scan a room to get accurate room measurements for interior design of the room; to map a space for inventory control, space planning, space navigation, and photo sharing; for 3D object scanning and pattern matching; as a navigation aid for the visually-impaired to detect landmarks, stairs, low tolerances, and the like; as a communication aid for the deaf to recognize and interpret sign language for a hearing user; for automatic foreground/background segmentation; for real-time motion capture and avatar generation; for photo editing”; and so on.

Apple’s other recently published patent is also based on light-detecting technology. In a patent titled “Optical Sensing Mechanisms for Input Devices,” the company described a novel type of trackpad that uses an optical sensor in communication with a processor to detect a user’s hand movements on the trackpad.

Apple said in the patent background that “many current input devices, especially those such as track pads, may be limited in the number and type of inputs they can receive.” However, the outlined optical sensing mechanism greatly expands the types of inputs that the trackpad can detect. According to Apple, “the user may use finger gestures to provide certain commands to the computing device, [and] varying force velocities or pressures.” For example, a “hard” click could tell a computer to prioritize an associated functionality.

It is unknown if Apple has plans to implement these technologies in the next iPhone or MacBook models. However, it should be noted that these are not the first patents related to 3-D imaging and gesture-based input systems that Apple has filed. A patent continuation filed by Apple last month showed that the iPhone maker has developed an intelligent computer user interface system that automatically adjusts its input method based on a user’s proximity to the interface.

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