The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of twenty-five newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. This particular report covers a single, wild and crazy patent that touches on advancing television, advanced 5D technology, interactive gaming, teleconferencing, advanced tactile feedback technology, virtual reality data gloves and even a unique touch signature for starting a future vehicle. Is that wild enough for you?
Granted Patent Number One
Apple has received an extraordinary granted patent that they acquired years ago from Canadian inventor Timothy Pryor. Some of the original related patents from the acquisition date back to between 1999 and 2006 – or just prior to the iPhone's release. Apple refilled this particular patent application in July 2009 and today the US Patent Office has granted Apple this patent.
In December 2011 we first introduced Timothy Pryor's work in a report that related to non-visual controls in future iDevices. Mr. Pryor's patent relating to the "Control of Appliances, Kitchen and Home," though it also covered vehicle dashboards. At the end of our report we provide you with a list of the thirteen patents that Apple acquired from Mr. Pryor.
Today's granted patent generally relates to a new type of data entry device for computers and other electronic equipment generally in the category of digitizers and touch screens having several unique properties. It is based primarily on the electro-optical determination of temporary surface distortion caused by the physical input signal, or force, creating the distortion (e.g. a finger "touch"). This is herein referred to as surface distortion imaging and depends on the ability to detect, and in some cases quantify, small distortions of a surface over a large (by comparison) area.
Apple's granted patent is a sweeping patent covering the widest range of applications that I've ever seen. Our report points out just some of the key areas that this patent covers. Yet to fully appreciate the scope of this patent, you'll have to review the details of the patent for yourself. We provide you with a link to this newly granted patent at the end of our report.
Some of the Advantages of Apple's Invention
Apple's newly granted patent provides them with a wide range of potential advantages. Here are just a few of those listed in the patent:
1. A potential "four" and "five dimensional" capability, wherein the force-vector direction as well as the magnitude of force is measured.
3. An ability to have the surface distortion or touching input means of any material, completely removed from the actual sensing of the input. Specialized capacitive screens and the like are not required. However, an LCD display screen can for example, be used to form a portion of the surface.
4. The high resolution obtainable in larger surfaces such as one meter square or larger (3'x3') is unmatched, being capable of reaching greater than one part in 10,000 in each direction of the surface (100 million resolvable points on the surface).
5. Unlike most other types of displays, several embodiments of the disclosed invention give a desirable tactile feedback since it is the actual physical deformation (and the amount thereof) that is responsive. Thus the feedback to a finger (or other member) in terms of resistive force is proportional to the desired input. This tactile feedback is particularly desirable in for example the automobile where one should not take one's eyes off the road.
6. Another advantage of the disclosed invention is that it can create a touch screen data entry of very high resolution with such entry made directly on the screen. In this application the 3-D capability allows one to press harder and make a darker (or wider) line for example, just as one would do in normal practice.
7. The reliability of some of the touch screen prior art is questionable. Capacitive devices in close contact are subject to wear, humidity, electric fields and other variables for example. In addition, many prior art touch screens are of specialized construction and would be quite expensive to replace if they were broken, especially as the size increases. In the case of the invention, sensing of the screen is non-contact, and the sensing screen can be as simple as a piece of plate glass, or a wall.
Many touch screen designs appear to have problems connected with electro-magnetic radiation and can pose a problem in high security areas. This problem does not exist with the disclosed invention.
8. The invention is easily capable of multi-point operation or even detection of complex area "signatures" not just "points."
9. A further advantage of the inventions ability to detect multiple input signatures, etc. at any point on its face, therefore a keyboard, a piano keyboard, a joy stick can be artificially created at any point under computer control or simply by random human command. This is a particular desirability in a car where you cannot necessarily keep your eye on the data entry.
10. Common Systems. In addition to the above advantages over the prior art, the invention also has an advantage that it employs essentially standard hardware for any screen size. The same technology is applicable for a screen or "pad" of say 3''.times.4'' (8.times.10 cm) such as might be in a car dashboard all the way to screens or digitizers; the size of a wall. This allows the cost to be reduced as the technology can be shared.
11. Variable and "Intelligent" orientation. It is also useful therefore to replace in many cases keyboards which have continuous arrays of keys, be they optical, mechanical, contact, electro mechanical or whatever. Unlike most keyboards the disclosed type can "float" (i.e. be at any zone on the surface) which is convenient for people who know how to type but cannot see the keys for example, while driving.
12. Tactile feedback, including programmable. The unique tactile feedback application aspect of the invention allows one to essentially use a deformable member as a sort of miniature joy stick for each finger or to rock back and forth between one or more fingers to create different signals. In addition, programmable tactile feedback such as air blasts, vibration, etc., can also be added easily to the touch surface.
13. Another advantage of the invention is that it can detect a force or displacement signature such as of an object that would be picked up by a robot hand. Of interest as well is the ability to sense the signature of someone, even one who would enter a signature of his palm or what have you. This may be of considerable use to the blind and other physically disabled persons, allowing use of non-conventional inputs (e.g. elbows toes, etc) and the tactile feedback afforded is particularly helpful here.
14. In a gaming and simulation context, the invention has the advantage that it is low in cost, and provides a method by which the game player can participate in a physical way, just as in real sports, and the like. The description in the patent makes it sound like a Kinect-like or Wii-like gaming experience (see more information under "The Number One Focus of this Patent is TV & Related Media").
Further disclosed in this invention is a variation on the invention for use where inputs other than physical touching are used to temporarily deform the medium. This can be TV, thermal, air, vacuum, electromagnetic--or any other physical force which can temporarily either distort the surface in any direction.
The ability of the invention to detect temporary distortions also leads it to be usable over broad areas for unique transduction applications such as weighing trucks on the highway "on the fly", counting lumps of coal on a specialized conveyor belt, counting/weighing and other such applications, or in any other application where transient deflections are the desired signal.
The Number One Focus of this Patent is TV & Related Media
Much of Apple's newly granted patent focuses on projection TV technology and applications. Yet the patent makes it clear that the "concepts, while they've been shown in the context of a rear projection display device as in FIG. 2, are really quite usable in the context of the invention with any sort of display device. For example, screen 101 could be a LCD device would not require guns (and respective lenses) 110 for projection."
The patent also covers optional 3D glasses relating to stereoscopic TV and using TV for teleconferencing.
Wii or Kinect-like Gaming Capabilities
According to Apple, other sensors that could also be used to determine human or object position include radar sensor, or ultrasound with a transmitter, for example located on the person, or with a transmit and receive function provided on the TV set, allowing passive human interaction. Even phased-array radar that can tell the location of a number of the objects in front of it could be used. Such location is important in many games, as one would like to control the video display as to the position of the player, and what he's doing. This is not just limited to overall location or a head tracker, but could be expanded to encompass the gestures and movements of the player.
Virtual Reality and Simulation Using the Invention
To aid the interaction of the human with the computer in a way that allows the human to experience what the computer can simulate, improved methods are needed by which data could be more rapidly entered into computers, indicative of human wants, such as rotation of objects displayed on a screen, which have been designed, or otherwise created for animation etc. Some of these are often called virtual reality, and various means, such as position monitoring of head movements, "data gloves", which include measuring finger positions and joints, etc. have been proposed. In our June 2010 report titled "The Next OS Revolution Countdown Begins, we pointed to a new invention by John Underkoffler, the man behind the technology that was shown in the movie "Minority Report," which used "data gloves." So it's interesting to see that Apple's patent actually covered such technology.
Other interesting applications touched on in this patent cover CAD design and the dashboard used in vehicles. One specific technology of interest is a "taught signature that could be recognized for starting a vehicle."
Apple credits Timothy Pryor as the sole inventor of granted patent 8,228,305. How much of this technology Apple will actually use in the coming years is unknown at this time. Shown below is a list of thirteen patents that Apple acquired from Timothy Pryor.
Note: Click on the graphic below once to view the graphic in a new window. Then click on it a second time to enlarge the graphic so that you could easily read the patent titles listed in the document/graphic.
Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of granted patents with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each Granted Patent is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any Granted Patent should be read in its entirety for full details. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
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Sites Covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, Twitter, Facebook, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, Macnews, iPhone World Canada, Jandan China, RealClearTechnology, MacDailyNews, CNET, Gizmodo, Gizmodo-Australia, Gizmodo Poland, Gizmodo UK, Gizmodo Brazil, CBS News TechTalk, Clien Korea, Exame Info Brazil, UC Information Center China, Wired Gadget Lab, Mouse Chile, Macity Italy and ZDNet Germany.
Techmeme, AppleZein Italy, MyDrivers China, GamesIndustry International, International Business Times Italy, AutomatiseringGids Netherlands, KitGuru, OnGames Spain, Display Alliance, Macworld UK, Weblogit Germany, Pulse2, Mobile Magazine, Actualidad iPhone Spain, GamesIndustry Biz, PC Magazine, and more.
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