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Patently Apple created a new 'Audio Related' category in our patent archives last week because of a barrage of new audio patents surfacing after Apple announced their new HomePod. We create new categories when we recognize a new trend emerging in Apple's Intellectual Property. Today the US Patent & Trademark Office has published yet another new round of audio patents. The first of two patents published today is titled "Method to Determine Loudspeaker Change of Placement." Today's patent application covers a system and method for determining whether a loudspeaker device has relocated, tilted, rotated, or otherwise been moved such that one or more parameters for driving the loudspeaker may be modified and/or a complete reconfiguration of the loudspeaker or the loudspeaker system may be performed.


Patent Background


Loudspeakers are often used by computers and home electronics for outputting sound into a listening area. Each loudspeaker may be composed of one or more transducers that are arranged on a single plane or surface of an associated cabinet or casing. To properly direct sound at one or more listeners, these loudspeakers must be manually oriented such that sound produced by each loudspeaker is aimed as intended. This orientation may include applying particular drive settings or other configuration parameters for each of the one or more transducers in the loudspeaker. For example, a loudspeaker may be initially oriented and configured such that corresponding transducers produce a sound beam directed at a listener. However, any movement of the loudspeaker may require 1) manual adjustment of drive settings or 2) a complete recalibration of the system such that the generated sounds are again properly aimed at the target listener. Accordingly, in these traditional systems, the listener must manually determine that one or more of the loudspeakers has moved such that recalibration and or adjustment may be performed. This repeated manual determination of movement and corresponding adjustment may become time consuming and may provide a poor user experience.


The approaches described in this section are approaches that could be pursued, but not necessarily approaches that have been previously conceived or pursued. Therefore, unless otherwise indicated, it should not be assumed that any of the approaches described in this section qualify as prior art merely by virtue of their inclusion in this section.


Apple's Solution


Apple's Invention relates to a system and method for determining whether a loudspeaker device has relocated, tilted, rotated, or changed environment such that one or more parameters for driving the loudspeaker may be modified and/or a complete reconfiguration of the loudspeaker or the loudspeaker system may be performed.


In one embodiment, the system may include a set of sensors integrated or otherwise in communication with a loudspeaker. In one embodiment, the sensors may include one or more of a video camera, a still image camera, a compass, an accelerometer, a light sensor, a wireless antenna, a thermometer, current/voltage monitor, a microphone, a gyroscope, and barometer/pressure monitor. In other embodiments, other sensing devices may be integrated or otherwise in communication with the loudspeaker.


The sensors may provide various readings that are analyzed to determine 1) whether the loudspeaker has moved since a previous analysis and/or 2) a distance of movement and/or a degree change in orientation of the loudspeaker since the previous analysis.


Upon determining that the level of movement is below a threshold value, the system and method attempts to adjust previous parameters used to drive one or more of the loudspeakers.


By adjusting previous parameters instead of performing a complete recalibration, the system and method provides a more efficient technique for ensuring that the loudspeakers continue to produce accurate sound at the location of a listener despite small movements/changes.


However, upon determining larger or non-quantifiable movements/changes, the system and method may trigger a full recalibration of one or more of the loudspeakers. Accordingly, the system and method described in today's patent application provides a more robust routine for adjustment of loudspeakers based on varied levels of movement and changes.



Apple's patent FIG. 1 noted above shows a view of a listening area with an audio receiver, a set of loudspeakers; FIG. 2A shows a component diagram of the audio receiver; and FIG. 2B shows a component diagram of a loudspeaker



Apple's patent FIG. 5 shows a set of directivity patterns that may be generated by a loudspeaker.


Further, Apple notes for patent FIG. 5 that the loudspeaker 105A (seen in FIGS. 7A and 7B above) may be associated with a set of parameters for driving its transducers (#109 of FIG 2B above) to produce beam patterns or other sound formations. The parameters may for example define the relative phase (or delay) and relative gain of the digital transducer drive signals (e.g., as computed by a digital beamforming process to obtain one or more beam patterns that are produced by the loudspeaker 105a), which drive the transducers respectively.


The parameters may be set to accommodate characteristics of the environment in which the loudspeaker is located. For instance, the parameters may accommodate for 1) reflections caused by surfaces in the listening area #101 (of FIG. 1 above) (e.g., walls, the ceiling, and the floor) and/or objects within the listening area (e.g., furniture); 2) distance between the loudspeaker and the loudspeaker 105B (FIG. 1); 3) the ambient temperature, ambient pressure, and/or ambient light level surrounding the loudspeaker; 4) current/voltage levels of a power outlet to which the loudspeaker 105A and/or the loudspeaker 105B are attached and/or 5) proximity of the loudspeaker 105A to the listener. By accommodating for these factors, the parameters allow the loudspeaker 105A to more accurately produce sound in the changing environment in which the loudspeaker 105A is situated.


Beamforming plays a role in Apple's HomePod. Apple's marketing material notes that "HomePod has a unique array of seven beamforming tweeters that precisely focus the sound, from very narrow beams all the way to true, consistent 360º audio. By aiming those beams throughout the room, the tweeters create an immersive sense of space — no matter where HomePod is placed or where you're sitting."


Further, Apple's A8 chip integrated into HomePod is, according to Apple, "The biggest brain ever in a speaker." Apple adds that "An Apple-designed A8 chip powers the most complex audio innovations in HomePod – like real-time modeling of the woofer mechanics; Buffering that's even faster than real time; Upmixing of both direct and ambient audio; Beamforming so the microphone can hear you over the music; and advanced echo cancellation so that you get amazing sound without even thinking about it."




Apple's patent FIG. 7A above illustrates what could either be a still image camera or video camera affixed to the loudspeakers 105A for determining movement and/or reorientation of the loudspeaker.


For example, one or more cameras may be located on the top and/or or bottom ends of the loudspeaker cabinet #111. In one embodiment, the cameras may be focused or directed directly downwards and/or upwards relative to the bottom or top ends of the loudspeaker #105A (i.e., the optical axis of the camera is pointed at relative to the surface of the top or bottom ends of the loudspeaker 105A).


For example, FIG. 7A shows an overhead view looking down into the cabinet #111, of the bottom end of the loudspeaker #105A. As shown, the camera 217A is placed on the bottom end such that the camera is looking downward, as demonstrated by the arrow D in FIG. 7B. In this embodiment, the camera may view the surface upon which the loudspeaker 105A is seated, such as the floor or a tabletop. As noted above, in some embodiments, a camera may be placed on the top end of the loudspeaker 105A in a similar fashion as described above in relation to FIGS. 7A and 7B such that the camera may view the ceiling or other structures above the loudspeaker 105A.


The one or more cameras of the loudspeaker 105A may capture images at regular intervals or in response to another triggering event. For example, a camera located along the bottom end of the loudspeaker 105A may capture still images of the floor, table, or another surface on which the loudspeaker 105A is situated at one minute intervals. However, in other embodiments, other time intervals may be used.


The captured images may be compared to each other, to determine if the loudspeaker 105A has moved to a new location (e.g., moved since operation 601). These comparisons may utilize pattern recognition/matching techniques to reveal movement. For example, an identified pattern in the wood grain of a hardwood floor captured in a first image at operation 601 may be located on the far right edge of the first image. In contrast, the same pattern captured in a second (subsequently capture) image at operation 609 may be located on the center of the second image.


This apparent shift in the pattern may indicate that the loudspeaker #105A has moved to the left between operations #601 and #609 noted in flow chart presented in FIG. 6 below.


In one embodiment, the distance of movement of the loudspeaker #105A may be determined based on a distance between the pattern in the first image and a distance of the pattern in the second image. As described in greater detail below, this determined distance and direction of movement for the loudspeaker #105A may be used to generate a new set of parameters for driving the loudspeaker #105A and/or the loudspeaker 105B without the need for a full recalibration of the loudspeakers 105A and 105B.


Apple's patent FIG. 6 below shows a flow chart of a method for configuring a loudspeaker based on detected movement and/or changes to the environment of the loudspeaker.




Other Components


Other components listed in Apple's filing point to a compass; gyroscope; light sensor (such as a photoresistor or a light-dependent resistor (LDR) that decreases resistance with increasing incident light); accelerometer; Thermometer; Antennas ( 802.11 suite of standards, GMS, CDMA, LTE and bluetooth standards), microphones; pressure sensors; and current/voltage sensors.


Apple's patent application 20170280265 was filed back in Q1 2017. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


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