The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today and one of them was a real surprise. Apple has been granted a major patent for 3D object recognition that will allow future iPads to advance graphics like MRI images for use in hospitals and other enterprise and military applications covering high-end security systems using advanced biometrics. Apple secretely acquired this patent at some point in the past from Swedish inventors. When the connections to this patent unfold, you'll be both surprised and excited about what this means for future iOS devices.
Advancing Identification Systems
Apple states that there are extremely reliable methods for personal identification using biometric data such as e.g. fingerprints, retinal patterns or similar unique features.
Face recognition could be an effective way of identifying a person without their cooperation or knowledge. There are two main general problems associated with a face recognition system; identifying a person via images and verifying the identity of a person to certify that the person is who they claim to be.
Apple's acquired patent states that it will be able to rectify the known short comings noted above and enable the creation of specific apps such as immigration ID-cards, passports, computer logon, intranet security, video surveillance and access systems. The present invention aims at increasing the performance and efficiency of such systems using geometric information available through the use of statistical shape models.
One specific application that could take advantage of this advanced 3D Statistical Modeling and even automated biometric identification methods is that of airport security. Airport terminals will be able to use advanced X-ray images to identify individuals using 3D Statistical Modeling.
A system that is used for obtaining images, analyzing them and responding to results from the identification system is illustrated in patent FIG. 5. The system covers security process equipment for controlling systems involving alarms, entrance systems, control gates and toll gates.
I'm not quite sure that Apple really has that much interest in airport security systems, but over time who knows. "We present the higher end of this security system because it's part of the patent. Yet as with all patents, Apple could use some of the technology for future projects. In this case it could be for home and/or enterprise based security systems.
Surface Fitting to the 3D Data: MRI Application
Beyond security, Apple's acquired patent notes that one of the key applications that could surface is one related to a laser scan in relation to a medical MRI. The patent states the following: "Consider the case of the object class being a particular blood vessel, e.g. the aorta. The model is then learned using curves and contours in images together with the true 3D shape obtained as a 3D MRI image. From the true 3D shapes a second model is learned comprising of the surface of the aorta. Then the most probable aorta surface could be recovered from the image features from the 3D shape recovered by the primary shape model."
Other Possible Applications
Other possible applications noted in this granted patent include object identification and verification in industrial processes related to security. Another application could be related to the Military for object recognition and automatic determination of military vehicles, ships or aircraft. Being related to the military, it's doubtful that we'll ever know if any of this will be implemented due to national security issues; though interesting nonetheless. And finally, other examples listed include advanced biometrics, information security, law enforcement, smart cards and access control systems.
Future PowerVR Processors for iOS Devices & Those Behind Today's Important Patent
In December 2010 The Telegraph reported on developments concerning Imagination Technologies next generation iPad processors that will be able to deliver "Avatar-style graphics" within the next few years. The report noted that it will bring "photo-realistic images" to devices like smartphones. Additionally, these next-generation processors will include "super-duper ray-tracing engines" that could have a similar transformational effect on mobile phones.
Considering that Apple owned a minimum of 20.3 percent of Imagination Technologies back in 2008 and is considered a major partner of Imagination Technologies, it's more than likely that Apple is definitely one of their top customers who have been working on this next generation for 2012.
In a recent press release, Imagination Technologies stated that "Future generations of Caustic ray tracing technology will be ultimately integrated with Imagination's future PowerVR GPU IP cores, delivering a price/performance level that is set to change the world's perception of the cost and accessibility of real-time, cinematic quality ray tracing." Some have reported that this technology could lead to consumers being able to film in 3D. For Apple, it could also mean being able to bring their new mind-boggling photo-realistic imagery technology to market faster due to their recently obtained from their acquisition of C3 Technologies.
Where it gets interesting is when we go back to the history of this patent and see how things begin to merge into the "Bigger Picure. It's important to understand the two individuals behind this patent. The first is Fredrik Kahl, Professor Mathematical Imaging Group, Centre for Mathematical Sciences Faculty of Engineering at Lund University in Sweden. Fredrik pioneered works on Pattern Recognition – a key attribute of today's granted patent. The second individual is Jan Eric Solem who owned Polar Rose, a company that Apple acquired in September 2010. Their technology has since been incorporated into Apple's new facial recognition or detection feature found in iPhone 4S's camera.
To understand where the technology is going in the future, you don't have to look much farther than Imagination Technologies latest breakthrough announcement of November 15, 2011. "Imagination's next generation PowerVR Series6 graphics architecture, codenamed 'Rogue', has already been adopted by many of the world's leading players…" Moreover, the "next generation PowerVR GPUs will bring supercomputer class parallel processing to the mobile and consumer world, as well as stunning next generation graphics. PowerVR Series6 GPUs have already been selected by eight partners, with more engagements in the pipeline.
They go on to state in their press release that the "rise of Cloud technologies is creating exciting new markets and discontinuities in existing ones as all devices evolve to take advantage of connectivity. New applications in healthcare, home automation, security (which are noted in today's patent), smart energy and elsewhere will all increasingly follow the trend of computing and smart phones, and begin taking advantage of significantly enhanced functionality enabled by Cloud connectivity. And as consumers continue to embrace their world in the Cloud, so everything from cars to toasters will need to become connected."
What Makes this a Secret Patent?
What makes this a secret patent is that it's not directly linked to Polar Rose, a company that Apple acquired. The lead inventor associated with this invention is in fact noted as being Professor Kahl Fredrik of Sweden as we presented earlier, who has no ties to Polar Rose. The original filing for this patent dates back to Q3 2005 and we have no idea when Apple actually acquired it.
It appears that Apple first owned the 3D Object Recognition patent before going out and acquiring Polar Rose so as to own everything associated with the technology that is found in Apple's now granted patent.
Apple also knew that one of the top PhD students studying under Professor Kahl Fredrik was none other than Martin Byröd who worked at C3 Technologies. So Apple went and acquired this company. And in acquiring this patent, the two key inventors and both of their companies associated with this technology, Apple has basically secured the IP and ability to take the technology to new heights where the copy cats can't go.
For more details, see granted patent 8,064,685. Apple credits Jan Erik and Hahl Fredrik as the inventors of this patent which was originally filed in 2005.
Another Granted Patent and Sidenote
Another noteworthy patent issued today involves more technology relating to a processor. Apple's granted patent is in fact their second patent relating to a Macroscalar Processor Architecture. Today's patent could be reviewed under number 8,065,502. Their first patent on this was granted in November 2009. Although this architecture could be used with Intel Processors, the patent does state that this architecture could apply to a future "embedded processor." Hmm, now that's interesting.
While we're on the topic of processors, I just wanted to point out a new patent application that surfaced this month relating to GPUs. Apple's patent application 20110267359 discusses the unique capability of sharing GPU power between two devices like a MacBook and iMac. The idea goes a little like this: Do you need more power for a video game you're playing or a CAD graphic that you're working on at home? If you do, then simply hook up your two devices via this new specialized adapter and you'll be able to borrow unused GPU power from one device to double the GPU power of the other. Now that's certainly an interesting idea.
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