In June of 2009 Apple tried to bury the fact that they had begun preliminary R&D on integrating Pico Projectors into future iPhones and/or other Apple media players - but Patently Apple broke the news. Nine months later a new mysterious projection system patent has emerged. After careful review, we're now able to see that Apple is taking their pico projector research and development to the next level. Apple is now exploring multiple avenues of incorporating pico projectors into their hardware which includes a new and very intriguing application.
Apple's patent appears to be describing their work on a few different types of projection systems as opposed to a single projector system. According to Apple's patent, the projector could be integrated into a dedicated remote controller associated with the projection system or it could be offered as an auxiliary client device such s an iPhone, iPod touch (PDA) or laptop.
Incorporating a pico projector into an iPhone in my view, would be a natural for many reasons, but one exemplary example would be that it could be enhanced to work with Apple's Keynote Remote application.
An end user could present parts or all of their presentation to a colleague on an office or lunch-room wall just to bounce some ideas around before the big meeting with just their iPhone. Another idea, shown in the second left-side graphic below, is the ability to pitch an idea to a client or your boss in a pinch - anywhere - including in an elevator if they're pressed for time. Admittedly the latter example is a better idea on paper than it would be in reality but if you know salesmen, then you know they'd love this ability to pitch their ideas anywhere. The bottom line is that an iPhone with a pico-projector would likely be a hit with busy sales and corporate executives.
The flipside of this patent is that it hints that it could be used throughout your home. In fact one of the great ideas that Apple's engineers are putting forward is incorporating the pico projector right into their Airport Express product - very much like how Time Capsule is combined with a router, today.
To clarify, Apple's patent specifically describes it this way: "In some cases, the projection system may include a wireless router and act as a hub."
One of the applications shown in the graphic collage above, we see Wii Games being projected on a wall. Not that Apple's patent points to the Wii, but games in general could be yet another twist to the router based angle that Apple is proposing.
Of course you'd be able to project video games from your iPod as well in addition to watching other projected content, like a movie or TV show.
Another example illustrated in the collage above is a soccer Mom showing highlights of her daughter's soccer game on the back of a van seat to celebrate that great goal or save by the team's goalie.
The last illustration shows how the pico projector could be integrated into a laptop like Apple's patent suggests. Instead of a group of people huddling around your MacBook to see a great new slide that you're working on, your MacBook would simply project the image to a nearby wall or office cubical divider for the group to see.
The Projection System
The Client Architecture
Using an iPhone to Work with Remote Projectors
Apple's patent states that for other client input data, "a touch device, such as a touch screen, may allow a user of a client device to press a finger on the presentation as displayed, and a corresponding marker/indicator may be added to appear in the presentation." Apple's patent figures 6A-C shown below are examples of screenshots that may be presented on a client device like an iPhone. The examples show that that user will be able to watch or send a presentation or video to others, review data, activate the camera, set the audio and so forth.
A Multitude of Sensors
The sensors that may be included in the auxiliary device and/or client devices may include, but are not limited to, image sensors (such as cameras, charge coupled devices (CCDs), and the like), color sensors, position sensors, depth sensors (such as infrared (IR), distance sensors (such as radio frequency), and orientation sensors (such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, and the like). Also, plural sensors may be used. In addition to plural sensors for sensing multiple types of data, plural sensors may be employed for a single type of data. For example, plural distance sensors may be employed to obtain distances from the auxiliary device to a plurality of points of the projected image.
Apple's Patent goes on to state that "Although the projection system may be calibrated, for example, by color correction, keystoning, and the like, via the processor of the projection system and images captured by the camera of the projection system and/or depth sensors, the projection system may be calibrated using an auxiliary device."
The Network: Communicating with Multiple Clients
In Apple's proposed projection system 100 shown below in FIG.3, we see a block diagram illustrating an example of communication between the projection system 100 of FIG. 1 and a plurality of the client devices 200 of FIG. 2. It should be understood that FIG. 3 is schematic and intended only to provide a general understanding of possible data flow, rather than being exhaustive of possible implementations.
One vague example used in the patent would suggest that Apple's iChat Theater could be able to accommodate communications with multiple remote clients. This way film producers and or corporate marketing teams for example, would be able to simultaneously work on an edit, a project or simply watch a keynote that is being captured and broadcast by a larger corporate projection system.
Perhaps even one day in the future when cellular networks get faster, we'll be able to tune into an Apple Keynote on our iPhone – live. I doubt very much if it would be free – but for $1.99, it could be tempting. In such a scenario, you'd likely have to be signed up with Apple's MobileMe so that the projector system could have all of the data required on record in order to send you the live transmission quickly.
One Version of a Projection System
Apple's patent FIG. 8 is a schematic diagram illustrating an example of auxiliary calibration of the projection system 100 of FIG. 1 using an auxiliary device 400. The auxiliary device may be any suitable device including a camera, such as the iPhone for example - which is one of the client devices mentioned at the start of this patent that is capable of communicating with the projection system. The auxiliary device 400 may also be a remote controller for controlling various functions of the projection system.
Apple credits Brandon Slack, David Falkenburg and Reese Cutler as the inventors of patent 20100060803 published on March 11, 2010 and originally filed in Q3 2008.
Possible Future Concepts
Additional ideas and possibilities on Apple's future use of Pico Projectors were presented in our December special report that covered the SixthSense device developed at MIT by Pranav Mistry. Update March 17, 2010: Here's a worthwhile video to check out that will show you Texas Instruments latest nHD DLP pico-projector module used in Samsungs's new Beam smartphone.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application and/or grant is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application and/or grant should be read in its entirety for further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number(s) noted in this report into this search engine.
It should be noted that the reasoning for titling this report "Apple Files a Mysterious Projector Patent" is because Apple's engineers went out of their way to conceal the term pico projector. Nothing shy of a pico projector could be incorporated into an iPhone, the cover of a MacBook or incorporated into an Airport Extreme embodiment for the purpose of producing projection.
The pictures in our pico projector collage were obtained from Microvision.