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Mind Boggling Apple Patent reveals Futuristic 3D Display Allowing users to Interact with Images in Mid-Air

30a patent application
On April 24, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a monumental invention relating to an interactive 3D display. At first I thought it might have been a patent from PrimeSense, but the inventors are Apple engineers. Today's discovery is one of those patents where you get goose bumps just thinking about what this could mean for the future.


Apple's Patent Background


Three-dimensional (3D) display technologies are becoming increasingly popular. Growing interest in the applications of 3D viewing is evident not only in the field of computer graphics but also in a wide variety of other environments such as education, medical diagnostics, biomechanical engineering, etc.


Conventional 3D display systems typically require special viewing equipment. For example, observers may be required to wear special viewing equipment such as glasses, goggles, helmets, or other viewing aids in order to view the 3D image. This type of special viewing equipment can be cumbersome and undesirable for a viewer.


Autostereoscopic display technologies such as volumetric and parallax displays have been developed in attempt to produce 3D images to a viewer without the use of special viewing glasses or other viewing aids.


However, conventional autostereoscopic display systems tend to have several drawbacks. For example, parallax display systems typically require a user to remain in a fixed location relative to the display, thereby preventing a user from viewing the 3D image from different viewing angles.


Volumetric display systems are often incapable of producing images that exhibit occlusion and opacity, which in turn can cause 3D images to appear less realistic to a viewer. Volumetric display systems that are capable of reconstructing images with occlusion have been known to introduce vertical parallax, a type of image distortion that can result in user eyestrain.


Some free-space imaging displays project images onto an invisible surface such as a thin layer of fog. Advancements have been made in this field in an effort to improve the fidelity of the projected image. However, these display technologies inherently rely on the quality and stability of the projection medium, and it is difficult to prevent projection screen instability from causing image degradation. An additional drawback of the projection medium is that physical interaction with the projected image by an observer can disturb the projection medium and distort the projected image.


It would therefore be desirable to be able to provide improved interactive display systems for displaying 3D images.


Apple Invents Interactive 3D Display System


Apple's patent relates generally to display systems, and, more particularly, to interactive three-dimensional display systems.


According to Apple, an interactive display system may be provided that allows a user to interact with three-dimensional projected images that have been formed in mid-air.


The interactive display system may include display structures for producing a primary three-dimensional image. The display structures may include a laser projection system such as one or more infrared laser projectors that project an image into a non-linear optical material such as a non-linear crystal or the display structures may include other types of three-dimensional display technologies.


2. Apple invents Interactive 3D display system


An optical system may be configured to project the three-dimensional image into mid-air to form a secondary three-dimensional image based on the primary three-dimensional image. The optical system may include an assembly of mirrors such as first and second curved mirrors. The primary three-dimensional image may be formed within the assembly of mirrors. Light from the primary three-dimensional image may be reflected between the first and second curved mirrors until it ultimately exits through an opening in one of the mirrors to form the projected three-dimensional image in mid-air.



The interactive display system may include a sensor system for gathering information on user interactions with the projected three-dimensional image. The sensor system may include an infrared light source such as an infrared laser and a network of sensors configured to detect infrared light. The infrared light source may emit infrared light towards the secondary three-dimensional image. The network of sensors may be configured to detect the light as it reflects off of an external object such as a user's finger. The sensor system may determine a location of the external object based on the signals detected by the network of sensors.


The information gathered by the sensor system may be interpreted as user input data. Control circuitry in the interactive display system may update the primary three-dimensional image based on the user input data. This may in turn update the secondary three-dimensional image projection. This type of feedback mechanism allows one or more users to interact with and provide user input to the projected three-dimensional image in mid-air.


4. Apple figs 3 & 4 - Interactive 3D display

Apple's patent FIG. 3 is a diagram of illustrative circuitry that may be used in a detection system for detecting user interaction with a projected image; FIG. 4 is a flow chart of illustrative steps involved in operating an interactive three-dimensional display system.


Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time. For more on this see patent application 20140111479.


Today's patent is yet another piece of Apple's Advanced 3D technology puzzle.  Apple's patent pending invention noted below was first revealed back in 2011 covering a remote-free TV, gaming and presentation experience.Today's patent is likely the mechanism that is shown eminating from device below. In a way, the two patents may be covering the very same invention. How's that for food for thought.


5. Apple patent figure of 3D imaging system




Will Apple's new interactive 3D display invention be coming to market this year? No, there's no chance of that happening. This is a longer term project. However, it's not necessarily a fantasy either. In November 2013 when Apple acquired a 3D specialist company called PrimeSense, we noted that Apple's Tel Aviv research center was reportedly working on sensing technologies specializing in three-dimensional analysis of body and facial movements and conversion of computer activity.


So it's just a fact that Apple's 3D team in Tel Aviv is working on some pretty futuristic technology as some of the patents on this have proven. But like Apple's CEO Tim Cook noted yesterday, Apple may not be first to market with major breakthroughs, but when something comes out, Apple fans want it to be insanely great, and that takes time. I'm certain that this project falls into that category. 


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