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Apple invents a Laser Beam Mapping System for iDevices

On December 4, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a unique laser beam mapping invention. A future mapping application for an iDevice like an iPhone will use a laser sensor and laser beam to gather measurements of a room that includes shapes, distances, attributes of environmental objects and volume. While Apple's patent application provides us with an overview of the technical of the invention, they never really reveal the many applications that this invention could be applied to in the future. More than likely Apple will expand upon this invention in the future so as to provide us with more insight as to how consumers will be able to take advantage of this new laser beam system for iDevices that cover everything from an iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. While Apple is careful to not mention the word 3D, the nature of the measurements would suggest that the data collected in three axis mode would create a 3D model. It's definitely one of Apple's most interesting inventions of the year.


Apple's Patent Background


Laser distance measuring devices include a laser and a sensor. The laser generates a laser beam that is reflected off of surfaces such as walls in a room. By detecting the reflected beam, a device can measure the distance to the surface. This type of laser distance measuring device sometimes includes area or volume measuring capabilities. For example, in a volume measuring mode, the device may instruct a user to sequentially measure the width, length, and height of a room using the device. The device can then compute a volume using the measured width, length, and height.


Conventional laser measuring devices measure only the distance from the device to a given surface. These devices are unable to measure distances between multiple points that are separate from the device and therefore require the user to place the device is specific locations for which measurements are desired. This can be difficult in, for example, a furnished room with items that restrict access to all parts of the room.


Additionally, these devices can be bulky pieces of equipment that require batteries or battery packs and must be purchased and transported separately from other equipment and electronic devices.


It would therefore be desirable to be able to provide improved electronic devices with mapping circuitry.


Apple Invents iDevices with Laser Mapping Circuitry


Apple's invention generally relates to electronic devices and, more particularly, to electronic devices with mapping circuitry for measuring sizes, shapes, distances, and other attributes of environmental objects.


The mapping circuitry may include a laser sensor and positioning circuitry such as device position detection circuitry. The laser sensor may include a light-emitting component and a light sensor. The light-emitting component may be a coherent light source such as a laser. The light sensor may be configured to detect reflected portions of the light emitted by the light-emitting component.


The positioning circuitry may include one or more accelerometers, one or more gyroscopes, satellite navigation system receiver circuitry such as Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver circuitry or other circuitry for determining and monitoring the position and orientation of the device.


During mapping operations, a user may select a mapping application using the display (e.g., using touch sensors in a touch-sensitive display). The mapping application may be implemented using software running on processing circuitry in the device.


The mapping application may receive device position data from the positioning circuitry and laser sample data from the laser sensor. Laser sample data may be gathered by pointing the laser at a location on a surface and gathering sensor data using the light sensor. Laser sample data may be gathered while pointing the laser at multiple sample points on a single surface, at multiple sample points on multiple surfaces, may be continuously gathered while moving the laser across one or more surfaces, etc. For each sample point at which laser data is gathered, device position data from the positioning circuitry (e.g., accelerometer data and gyroscope data) may also be gathered.


Apple's mapping application may combine the gathered laser sample data and the gathered device position data to generate sample position data for each sample point. The sample position data for multiple sample points may be combined to form surface data, area data, volume data, distance data, square footage data, virtual images of a surface, virtual images of a room, virtual images of a structure or other object or may other mapping data. The mapping data may be stored and/or displayed to a user.


As shown in the side view of FIG. 3, a laser sensor such as laser sensor #32 may be mounted on circuitry such as printed circuit within the housing of the device. When the device is in a mapping mode operation, a user may push button #43 which will activate a laser sensor to generate laser beam or may cause circuitry in the device to gather sample data such as a sample of laser data and a sample of device position data.




In the example of patent FIG. 3 above, the laser sensor emits a laser beam through the audio jack opening #22. However, this is merely illustrative. If desired, the laser sensor may emit a laser beam through any suitable opening in the iPhone be it the housing or through the display.


In general, Apple's patent FIG. 4 shown below is a diagram showing how a device may use a laser beam to gather sample data at one or more sample points on one or more surfaces from one or more positions.



During operation in a mapping mode, the laser beam may be used to measure distances to surfaces of objects as shown in the diagram of FIG. 4 below. As shown in FIG. 4, the device may emit a laser beam in the direction of surfaces such as walls 36 and 38. For example, a user may point the laser beam at a first point such as point P1 and then press the button #43 to activate sampling of data at each sample point. However, this is merely illustrative. If desired, virtual controls such as virtual button #135 may be displayed on the device's display during mapping operations.


Activating sampling of data may include gathering a sample of data while pulsing the laser beam gathering a sample of data while the laser beam is continuously illuminated, continuously gathering samples of data while the pulsing laser beam continuously gathers sample data.


The device may be used to gather laser sample data and device position data while the device is at device position DP1 and the laser beam is aimed at point P1. The user may then move the device in a direction such as direction #137 to position DP2 so that the laser beam is pointed at sample point P2 and so forth.


Apple's patent FIG. 5 noted below is a diagram showing how a device may use a laser beam to gather sample data at one or more sample points on a curved surface from one or more positions.



Apple's patent FIG. 6 noted below is a diagram showing how a device may use a laser beam to gather sample data for volumetric measurements from one or more positions in a room.



Apple's patent FIG. 8 below is a diagram showing how a laser sensor may provide laser data to a mapping application and other applications; FIG. 9 is a flow diagram showing how laser sample data and device position data may be combined to form mapping data



According to Apple, the new laser mapping system may apply to cellular telephones, media players, other handheld portable devices, somewhat smaller portable devices such as wrist-watch devices, pendant devices, or other wearable or miniature devices, gaming equipment, tablet computers, notebook computers, or other electronic equipment.


Patent Credits


Apple credits Vivek Katiyar, Andrzej, Dhaval Shah and Stephen Lynch as the inventors of patent application 20140357316 which was originally filed in Q2 2013. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


Maybe it's just me, but after reviewing the invention, "Beam me up Scotty," came to mind when thinking of its use with Apple Watch.


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