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New patents suggest Apple is getting serious about 3D mapping

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The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has officially published a series of more than 30 patents that were recently granted for Apple. Most of the patents seem to revolve around motion sensing gestures and a 3D mapping solution. Apple Insider also notes that many of the patents are intellectual property that Apple received after its acquisition of PrimeSense.

PrimeSense, which was founded back in 2005, is an Israeli company that previously partnered with Microsoft in order to create the Kinect’s 3D motion sensing camera. After licensing the technology to Microsoft back in 2010, not much was heard from the company, at least until Apple acquired it last year in a death that was rumored to be worth $345 to $360 million.

One of the most notable patents covers the technology behind PrimeSense’s “lens array projector,” according to TechCrunch, which is what the company uses to create an even field of points of light by splitting the original source of infrared light. This is how accurate motion tracking is made possible, by measuring that evenly-split field and the things that disrupt it.

Another patent that Apple was awarded is very similar to the 3D display that Amazon used in its Fire Phone, which was released earlier this year. The technology makes it so that a mobile device’s screen can orient images according to the viewer’s perspective relative to the device, essentially creating a three-dimensional display, according to 9-to-5-Mac.

“A three-dimensional (“3D”) display environment for mobile device is disclosed that uses orientation data from one or more onboard sensors to automatically determine and display a perspective projection of the 3D display environment based on the orientation data without the user physically interacting with (e.g., touching) the display,” the patent describes, as quoted by VentureBeat.

Perhaps the most interesting patent is for a new laser-based system for Apple’s future mobile devices that enables them to map their surroundings using technology similar to the kind that NASA uses to measure the biomass of forests from the International Space Station.

The usefulness of such a technology is unquestionable, as evidenced by how many different organizations use similar technologies currently. Many police in Australia use the technology to create 3D diagrams of crimes scenes, the federal government uses it to map unexplored terrain in the Alaskan wilds, and paleontologists even use it to map dinosaur tracks.

The problem is, the equipment is currently too bulky and expensive to be used in consumer electronics, such as the iPhone. This is something that Apple notes in the patent application, according to Patently Apple, and explains the need for their laser technology in order to make it viable.

“Conventional laser measuring devices measure only the distance from the device to a given surface. These devices are unable to measure distances between multiple points that are separate from the device and therefore require the user to place the device [in] specific locations for which measurements are desired,” Apple wrote, as quoted by RT. “This can be difficult in, for example, a furnished room with items that restrict access to all parts of the room.”


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