It would appear that one of Apple's R&D teams have been assigned with the project of coming up with new ways to utilize the iPhone's built-in camera beyond simply taking photos. Last month we were clued into an innovative concept that will help users control their incoming calls and voicemail by simply swiping their finger over the external camera lens. It detailed rewinding and fast forwarding voicemail in addition to enhancing one handed navigation of web pages, documents or your iTunes library – by once again, swiping the camera lens in different swiping motion combinations. In today's patent, we're presented with the idea that we'll be able to train the iPhone (or perhaps a future iPad) to automatically turn the speaker-phone mode on under specific conditions like when you're driving a vehicle or busy working on your computer. The camera is trained to understand both lighting conditions and your common surroundings so as to know when your speaker phone should or could be activated. If you're a busy executive, then this may be the answer you've been looking for. For now however, it's simply an R&D project.
Taking the Speaker-Phone to the Next Level
Apple's multifunction iPhone features a built-in digital camera to capture and playback video or still images. Many cellphones on the market today also feature a speaker phone that is activated manually by its user. The speaker phone allows the user to continue with a cellphone conversation without having to hold the device to their ear. In other words, the speaker phone allows the user to use the device in a "hands-free" manner.
For example, a user who is busy working on a computer at the office could leave their cellphone on their desk and manually activate the speaker phone to receive calls. Using the speaker phone, the user is able to carry on with his work on the computer etc.
In another example, a user who is driving a car needs to operate their cellphone in a hands-free manner. Accordingly, the user can manually activate the speaker phone on their cellphone and place the device at a proximate location such as, for example, in the cup holder. In this manner, the user could have a cellphone conversation in the car while operating the car using both their hands.
In today's patent, we discover that Apple wants to advance their iPhone's speaker-phone mode to the next level by adding smart technology to the iPhone's camera via a series of sensors (such as ambient light and/or movement sensors). These sensors would be coupled to the iPhone's built-in camera allowing it to understand both specific lighting and/or familiar camera shot conditions to trigger its auto speaker-phone functionality.
In one embodiment, the real lighting conditions in the environment surrounding the device is determined by measuring the ambient light intensity using one or more ambient light sensors (ALS). The camera circuitry may include an ALS that may be separate from or integrated with the focal plane sensor. The device may also have an ALS that is not associated with the camera circuitry directly.
In one embodiment, if the image is determined to be black or nearly black, the ambient light data is obtained using ALSs. If the ambient light data indicates very low levels of light, the speaker phone will not be activated because the device may not necessarily be lying flat or nearly flat against a surface but rather the device may be located in a dark environment. In contrast, if the ambient light data indicates normal levels of light, the speaker mode is automatically activated, because it is likely that the device is lying flat or nearly flat against an opaque surface.
In some embodiments, the ambient light data may indicate very low levels of light. A lack of ambient light in addition to a determination that it is daytime (e.g., by checking a clock function of the device) indicate the device may be in a dark environment such as inside a purse or coat pocket. Accordingly, such data points could be combined to decide that the speaker phone mode not be activated.
In certain situations, whether or not to enable the speaker phone mode may depend on the level of ambient light surrounding the device. For example, it may not be advisable for the speaker phone mode to be automatically initiated if the user is in a dark room or outside at nighttime (because the captured image is nearly black in those instances). To prevent such an occurrence, the decision to automatically enable the speaker phone mode may not be made unless there is a minimum level of ambient light present in some embodiments.
Speaker Phone Mode: Training and Cataloging Imagery
The iPhone will be able to be trained to recognize different conditions or environments that are acceptable for the auto speaker-phone mode to operate under. The device may be effectively "trained" to recognize when it is placed flat or nearly flat against a surface top of any color such that it would be desirable for the speaker phone mode to be automatically activated.
In yet another embodiment of manual training mode, the user could teach the device about situations where speaker phone mode should not be automatically activated. For example, the user could place the device in its holster attached to her belt. This might be a situation where the user would not want speaker phone mode to be automatically activated for an incoming call, because she would like to first determine the caller's identity, e.g. through caller ID information being displayed on the screen during the incoming call.
The user would then actuate the shutter button one or more times, to capture images of the scene before the camera lens. Each of these captured images would then be associated with speaker phone mode status being disabled. They would then be added to storage in the above-mentioned library or catalog. Using the catalog, the device could then determine whether to activate the speaker phone mode in any given situation.
The catalog of previously stored captured images may include images of various situations where the speaker phone mode was or was not enabled. For example, in one embodiment, the catalog of previously stored captured images includes images of the interior of the user's car (associated with speaker phone mode being disabled). The device could have automatically captured the images of the inside of the car or the user could have manually captured images of the locations where the user normally places the device in the car.
The captured images of the inside of the car may include, for example, images of the cup holder, the steering wheel, and the passenger seat, all of which may have been associated with speaker phone mode status being ENABLED. Using the catalog, the device may automatically activate the speaker phone mode when a captured image is determined to match the previously stored images of the interior of the car.
As another example, one or more of the previously stored captured images in the catalog may have been captured while the camera lens of the device was placed against a glass or transparent table (a position in which speaker phone is typically enabled during a call). For example, the device may have captured images of the user's feet or legs that are under the table. Although the translucent or transparent surface will not block light from reaching the lens of the camera, a comparison between the captured image and these previously stored captured images will allow the device to recognize that the camera lens is likely very close to a glass or transparent table top, such that the speaker phone mode should be enabled. In this manner, the device is trained to recognize when the camera lens of the device is likely very close to a glass or transparent table top. The user of the device can also train the device by capturing the images indicative of when speaker phone mode should be activated, thereby introducing and utilizing the user's specific preference or use case.
In another embodiment, the accelerometer may be used to further confirm that the device is located in a car such that the speaker phone mode should automatically be activated. For example, if the captured image matches a previously stored image of the interior of the car, and the data output by the accelerometer indicates that the device is moving faster than a human being is able to run, the device will determine that it is likely that the user is driving a car. Accordingly, the device may, in that case, automatically activate the speaker phone mode.
If the data output by the accelerometer indicates that the device is moving faster than a human being is able to run, the device may check for exceptions. For example, if the user is riding the bus or a train, it is not desirable to automatically activate the speaker phone mode. The library or catalog of previously stored images may include images captured while the user is on public transit. These images may include images of the seats or windows on the train. Accordingly, if the captured image matches such images in the library or catalog, the device may not automatically activate the speaker phone mode.
Apple credits Anand Sethuraman and Cheng Chang as the inventors of patent application 20100075712, originally filed in Q3 2008.
A Noteworthy & Related Patent Application Published Today
Ambient Light Sensor with Reduced Sensitivity to Noise from Infrared Sources
Some electronic devices, such as laptop computers and cellular telephones, may be equipped with an ambient light sensor to support a variety of control functions, such as to adjust keyboard backlighting or display brightness. Some electronic devices may also be equipped with an infrared sensor for receiving infrared signals from, for example, a remote control. Infrared signals intended for the infrared sensor may interfere with operation of the ambient light sensor and cause the device to operate improperly. Thus, an ambient light sensor is needed that can suppress noise from infrared sources. Apple lays out their solution under patent 20100072351.
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