In July we reported that Apple was in the race to acquire PrimeSense and last month the news was official. Little did we know at the time that Apple's Tel Aviv research center was already working on sensing technologies specializing in three-dimensional analysis of body and facial movements, and so the acquisition of PrimeSense was a perfect fit to advance future projects. A quick look at PrimeSense's website will show you that Apple has acquired a company that possesses a lot of real-world technology that could advance many Apple products in the future. Today's report takes a peek at a few of the patents that Apple has inherited.
In respect to the living room experience, Primesense offers technology that's behind the ASUS WAVI Xtion, a mini Kinect-like system that could also be used with a notebook. The technology behind this product can be found in a string of PrimeSense patents that share a common patent graphic noted below.
The patents behind this invention are noted as follows: Identifying Components of a Humanoid Form in 3D Scenes 20130230215; Scanning Depth Engine 20130207970 and others titled "Integrated Optoelectronic Modules" and "Analysis of 3D Scenes with a Surface Model."
Patents that Relate to Television & Beyond
In respect to television, PrimeSense describes their technology as one that will revolutionize the TV experience. Beyond devices like Microsoft's Kinect, PrimeSense states that their technology is being integrated directly inside televisions, set-top boxes and media streamers. PrimeSense states that "Via our partnerships with leading consumer electronics and content brands, PrimeSense is bringing naturally interactive entertainment and remote control-free interfaces to homes everywhere. We're giving new life to home entertainment."
PrimeSense's technology may be further enhanced in the future by Apple's patent pending invention that we revealed back in 2011 covering the same remote-free TV experience.
In 2013 two Apple patents came to light in respect to "Gaze Detection" technology (one and two). This is an area that PrimeSense is an expert at via Microsoft's Kinect. PrimeSense has a number of patent-pending and granted patents on this subject that could relate to TV. Some of the patents that you could investigate include: 3D User Interface granted patent 8,166,421; Gaze-based Display Control 20130321265; Optical pattern Projection 20130120841 and Pointing-Based Display Interaction 20130321271.
The '265 patent states that "As another alternative, these processing functions may be carried out by a suitable processor that is integrated with a display in a television set, for example, or with any other suitable sort of computerized device, such as a game console or a media player. The patent also points to this working with a tablet or notebook.
A 2012 AT&T patent discusses their desire to introduce a gesture based controller that could receive 3D image data from a gesture camera which AT&T points to being from PrimeSense or Microsoft (which uses PrimeSense technology). AT&T's patent FIG. 2 noted below illustrates an embodiment of a menu sent to a display device by the gesture controller for device control based on gestures.
Many are now in a race to provide these next generation TV interfaces and Apple holds a major piece of the puzzle.
Patents that Could Advance Apple's iOS in the Car in the Future
Apple first introduced iOS for the Car by name at their annual developer conference in June of this year. Eddy Cue introduced a series of initial services that are scheduled to roll out with 17 car manufacturers in the fall of 2014 with Honda kicking it off in the coming days ahead.
Yet Apple has other services that they're working on for iOS in the Car such an advanced indoor mobile location application to help users find their vehicles in a parking structure. A second patent relates to controlling an entire vehicle's power controls. This falls in line with a recent GM patent application relating to methods for automatically adjusting a steering tilt position wherein they acknowledge PrimeSense's natural interaction systems as they do in a second GM patent relating to adjusting vehicle mirrors based on a driver's head position. So Apple will be able to advance some of their ongoing in-vehicle system projects using PrimeSense's natural interaction systems.
Apple invented a video headset back in 2006 and was granted a patent for it in September 2009. Since that time Apple has added a few inventions to keep their project evolving over time (one, two), with the most recent mention of a headset being noted in a patent application relating to hidden audio sensors. Apple stated that "a visor may be used as a diaphragm in conjunction with the direct or indirect sensors for sensing and interpreting the user's discussion and/or voice commands."
In a 2013 PrimeSense patent application they discuss a projector being embodied in a wearable monitor, such as eye-glasses.
PrimeSense's patent FIG. 6 noted above illustrates an interactive 3D video display system having a wearable monitor. The system is configured to project the respective images onto the wearable monitor. Such devices may operate by projecting the computer-generated image through a partially reflective mirror while viewing an external scene. Alternatively the device may mix the computer-generated image and real-world view electronically.
In the example of FIG. 6, a user employs a wearable monitor which is capable of displaying stereoscopic imagery. In the embodiment of FIG. 6, the wearable monitor includes a miniature projector and a sensing element #160. Additionally or alternatively, the wearable monitor may communicate with an external processor or sensing device via a wireless link. An example of such a system is noted as being the headset by Novero as noted in the graphic below.
This goes back to Apple's granted patent which related to a headset working with a media player like an iPod (prior to the iPhone).
PrimeSense further noted that while the image of the book (#156) found in patent FIG. 6 is actually established within the wearable monitor, in some embodiments it may be perceived by the user as being superimposed in an external region of space as shown above. PrimeSense notes that the wearable monitor in such embodiments may be equipped with positioning, head-tracking and eye-tracking subsystems.
PrimeSense further notes in their patent introduction that natural user interfaces are gaining momentum in the entertainment and computer industry. Gesture controls are supplementing or replacing more conventional and less natural interfaces such as keyboards, mice, game controllers and remote controls.
One the devices gaming developers are buzzed about of late is the Oculus Rift. PrimeSense's technology as noted in this patent could be a step in this direction toward such a video game application.
Beyond video glasses Apple has filed for many projection-related patents over the years covering integrated projectors in future MacBooks, iPads, iPhones and even one device that Apple described as the next great thing.
PrimeSense's projection patent as noted above also illustrates another example use for their technology in the form of projector integrated into a future smartphone as noted below. Remember that this isn't a design patent, so pick on the bulk of the unit. The patent is simply conveying a visual concept of their technology in a smartphone rather than focusing on the design of the phone.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, Primesense is a company that that did a lot of the ground work for ground breaking devices like Microsoft's Kinect. They had the technology but didn't make the devices. Now with Apple, a lot of their technology will end up in Apple's known product lines, but more importantly, in future devices that may relate to TV, wearable computers and far beyond.
PrimeSense brings a lot of real-world technology to the table and a nice portfolio of intellectual property to back it up. Today's special report was just a sampling of some of PrimeSense's patents even though there are others like one relating to arcade and Vegas styled gaming machines, face detection and so much more.
In the end, PrimeSense is likely to help Apple accelerate the projects that their Tel Aviv research center have been working on in secret for years and bring exciting new products and product features to market in the coming years. I think that PrimeSense will prove to be one of Apple's top acquisitions over time. Without a doubt, Apple fans are in store for some interesting times ahead as some of PrimeSense's technologies make their way to future Apple products.
To Apple's new teammates in Tel Aviv: Shalom.
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