Apple Envisions Tabletop & Ceiling Versions of their TrueDepth Camera for Mapping Rooms & Projecting Images
Apple's TrueDepth camera on iPhone X took the market by surprise and enabled new features like Face ID, Animoji and more. Now we're learning from a new patent application published today by the U.S. Patent Office that Apple may have new secret products in mind that uses a much larger version of their depth camera. More specifically, Apple tells us that it may come in the form of tabletop or ceiling versions. The ceiling version sounds off-the-wall until you remember that Apple has already been granted a patent for a ceiling device in context to a future smart home device as noted below.
Apple's patent FIG. 4 below is a schematic pictorial illustration of a 3D mapping and projection device
Apple's invention provides improved devices and methods for 3D mapping. Some of these devices are also capable of projecting visible images over the volume that is mapped by the device.
The invention provides a mapping apparatus that is capable of this sort of standalone 360.degree operation. In some embodiments, the apparatus comprises a self-contained unit with a flat base, which can be placed on a tabletop, for example, in order to map a room and its occupants.
Additionally or alternatively, the same apparatus can be used to scan a modulated beam of visible light so as to project a visible image onto the scene that is mapped.
On the technical side of things, Apple notes that the invention covers a scanning apparatus, including a base containing one or more rotational bearings disposed along a gimbal axis, and a gimbal, including a shaft that fits into the rotational bearings and is configured to rotate through 360.degree. of azimuth about the gimbal axis relative to the base.
A mirror assembly is fixed to the gimbal and includes a mirror, which is positioned on the gimbal axis and is configured to rotate within the mirror assembly about a mirror axis perpendicular to the gimbal axis.
A transmitter is configured to direct pulses of optical radiation toward the mirror, which directs the optical radiation toward a scene.
A receiver is positioned to receive, via the mirror, the optical radiation reflected from the scene and to output signals in response to the received radiation.
Control circuitry is configured to drive the gimbal to rotate about the gimbal axis and the mirror to rotate about the mirror axis so as to scan the optical radiation over an area of the scene extending over the 360.degree. of azimuth about the gimbal axis, and to process the signals output by the receiver in order to generate a three-dimensional map of the scanned area.
In some embodiments, the apparatus includes a beamsplitter, which is positioned along the gimbal axis between the transmitter and the receiver and is configured so that the optical radiation is directed from the transmitter, via the beamsplitter, along the gimbal axis toward the mirror, while the optical radiation reflected from the scene is directed, via the beamsplitter, along the gimbal axis toward the receiver.
In one embodiment, the pulses of the optical radiation include infrared radiation, and the apparatus includes an emitter, which is configured to direct a visible light beam toward the mirror, wherein the visible light beam is modulated so as to project a visible image via the mirror onto the scene.
Just as with the TrueDepth camera using a dot projector to deliver Face ID, Apple notes in their filing that the same scanner can be used for both 3D mapping and projection of visible light. The patent describes an apparatus for mapping that includes an illumination module, which includes a radiation source, which is configured to emit a beam of radiation.
In addition, Apple notes illumination optics project the scanned beam so as to create a pattern of spots extending over a region of interest, which thus far has translated into Face ID.
Apple's patent application was filed back in Q2 2017. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Our cover graphic includes images in-part associated with patent figures 2B and 5. Apple's Fig. 5 specifically, which is the image shown on the right of our cover graphic, is a schematic sectional view of an optoelectronic assembly used in the device of FIG. 4.
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