With the iPhone 7 Plus including Apple's first dual lens 3D camera, every patent about 3D depth mapping could help to shed light on the technology behind Apple's new camera. A few of the latest patent reports covering this area of technology surfaced this summer (one and two) and today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published yet another patent application from Apple that's titled "Dynamic Beam Spot Size for Light Beam Scanning Device." According to Apple, "Light beam scanning can be used to generate an image, 3D map, etc. of one or more portions of a scene, including one or more objects in the scene, by scanning a pulsed light beam over the scene and determining a flight time of the light beam pulses between the device and various parts of the scene."
Apple's invention covers an apparatus which includes a light beam scanning device which scans a light beam, within a scan range, over a scene that is within a field of view of the scan range and generates an image map of at least a portion of the scene, based at least in part upon a time of flight of the light beam to and from one or more points within the scene. The light beam scanning device can include a lens element assembly which dynamically adjusts a divergence of the light beam. In some embodiments, the lens element assembly can include multiple lens elements, and one or more of the lens elements can be translated, relative to at least one other of the lens elements and in a direction parallel to a direction of the light beam, to implement dynamic divergence adjustment.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrates a light beam scanning device which scans light beams over a field of view; FIG. 5 illustrates a controller device which can be included in a light beam scanning device.
According to Apple, dynamically adjusting a divergence of the light beam can include adjusting a diameter of the light beam along one or more axes of the light beam. In some embodiments, the apparatus can include a scanner which scans the light beam, received from the lens element assembly, over a selected field of view of the scan range at one or more scan rates.
In some embodiments, the apparatus can include a controller device which controls the lens element assembly to dynamically adjust the divergence of the light beam as the light beam is scanned over the selected field of view. In some embodiments, the controller device can adjust the light beam divergence between separate scans of the light beam over at least a portion of the selected field of view, such that the divergence of the light beam is different between at least two consecutive scans.
Controlling beam divergence can at least partially mitigate such non-uniformity of beam pulse cross sections, which can improve the accuracy of the device in determining the properties of reflection points detected at various positions within the field of view (e.g., at various distances from the device), which can improve the correlation of various sets of reflection points into point clouds of various objects, etc. As a result, image mapping accuracy is enhanced, resulting in images, 3D maps, etc. which have improved accuracy in mapping the various objects in the scene that is within the field of view.
As noted many times, a 3D scanning camera isn't limited to the iPhone and could be applied to future Macs, iPad, Mac Pro, video camera, Apple TV, a television, gaming console and beyond.
Future 3D cameras with depth mapping capabilities could apply to future gaming, 3D in-air gesturing, augmented reality, advanced facial recognition security features, advanced home automation apps and features that work with advanced avatar creation. Apple, Google Microsoft and Intel are all racing to bring this technology to market in varying ways.
Apple's patent application 20160245903 that was filed in February 2015 is far from being a cuddly consumer read. It's definitely a sophisticated and technical patent filing that engineers in this field will be able to appreciate. To check out the finer details of this invention, click here. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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