Apple Invents a Unique System to Protect Various Lenses in Smartglasses from Colliding or Smashing when in Freefall
On Thursday Patently Apple covered an Apple patent application covering optical systems for displays titled "Apple Engineers Advance Near-Eye Displays for Smartglasses and HMD using Holographic Optical Elements and more." Today we discovered another optical system patent that was filed in Europe.
Apple has created a unique smartglasses (or Head-Mounted display device) system that could shift its optical system into protection mode if its motion sensor(s) detect the glasses are in "freefall" or have been hit with an object.
The system is designed to both move the lenses that are close to each other so that they don't collide and break and also could fill the new gap with air or liquid to further cushion the blow.
Interesting to note that in one patent point, Apple makes mention of a "user's prescription" in context with the lenses. Whether that was a Freudian slip or not is not known at this time.
The Problem to Fix
Head-mounted displays such as virtual reality glasses use lenses to display images for a user. A display may create images for each of a user's eyes. A lens may be placed between each of the user's eyes and a portion of the display so that the user may view virtual reality content.
If care is not taken, a head-mounted display may be vulnerable to damage. An optical system in the head-mounted display may include a lens directly adjacent to a display, which runs the risk of unwanted collisions between the lens and the display in the event that the head-mounted display is dropped or hit by an external object. Such collisions can damage the lens and the display in the head-mounted device.
It would therefore be desirable to be able to provide improved head-mounted displays to remedy this scenario.
A head-mounted display may include a display system and a lens system. The display system and lens system may be supported by a housing that is worn on a user's head. The head-mounted display may use the display system and lens system to present images to the user while the housing is being worn on the user's head. The display system may include a pixel array that produces images that are viewable through the lens system.
The head-mounted display may include control circuitry that operates the head-mounted display in an active use mode and a protected mode.
In the protected mode, the display system may be protected from collisions with the lens system. Placing the head-mounted display in the protected mode may include using an actuator to increase the distance between the display system and the lens system (e.g., by moving one or both of the display system and the lens system away from each other), may include injecting fluid between the display system and the lens system, and/or may include deploying a protective layer between the display system and the lens system.
The control circuitry may determine whether to operate the head-mounted display in protected mode or active use mode based on sensor data, on/off status information, location information, and/or other information.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 presented below is a diagram of an illustrative head-mounted display; FIG. 2 is a diagram of an illustrative head-mounted display having a lens system, a display system, and an actuator for adjusting a distance between the lens system and the display system.
As shown in FIG. 2, the display system #12 and optical system #14 of the glasses #10 may be configured to display images for a user's eyes (#16) using a lightweight and compact arrangement.
In some arrangements, the display system may be relatively close to lens system. For example, when the glasses are in use, the distance ("D") between the display system and the lens system may be between 0.5 mm and 1 mm, between 0.1 mm and 0.75 mm, between 0.75 mm and 2 mm, less than 2 mm, greater than 2 mm, or other suitable distance.
This type of compact arrangement may raise the risk of impact between display the system and lens system when the glasses are dropped or an external object striking glasses. If care is not taken, these types of incidents may cause collisions between the lens system and the display system which could cause damage to one or both system.
To protect the display and lens systems, the control circuitry may operate the glasses in first and second modes such as an active use mode and a protected mode.
Active Mode: When the glasses are in active use mode they may operate normally and the control circuitry (#20) may set distance D to any suitable distance (e.g., may set distance D to a minimum distance, a maximum distance, or any other suitable distance). The control circuitry may, for example, set the distance to one that accommodates the user's eye prescription.
Protected Mode: When the glasses are in protected mode, it can protect the glasses and lens when in freefall. In such a scenario, the control circuitry may take certain actions to protect the display and lens systems.
This may include using actuators (#38) to move the display system and/or lens system along the Z-axis to increase distance ("D), using the actuators to move the display and lens systems along the Y-axis to increase the lateral distance between the display and lens systems using actuators to rotate the display system away from the lens system or vice versa, inserting a protective layer between the display and lens system such as a layer of air, fluid, and/or a layer of material that helps prevent collisions between display system and lens system.
Later in the patent filing Apple further states that one of the fluids may include a charged liquid or may be a ferrofluid (e.g., a ferromagnetic material formed from suspended ferromagnetic particles in a liquid carrier).
Apple's patent FIG. 5 presented below is a side view of an illustrative head-mounted display having a lens system with an interposer lens in active use mode; FIG. 6 is a side view of an illustrative head-mounted display having a lens system with an interposer lens in protected mode.
Apple's patent FIG. 9 presented above is a cross-sectional view of an illustrative head-mounted display in which fluid such as air is injected between a display system and a lens system to shift between active use mode and protected mode; FIG. 11 is a flow chart of illustrative steps involved in operating a head-mounted display in active use mode and protected mode.
General Patent Points about the Headset
The main points of the invention describe the active and protection modes in a future headset. Below are some random things that Apple mentions about this form of future headset.
Wireless Signals: ultra-wideband signals, Bluetooth, WiFi signals, (5G) millimeter wave or other suitable signals. The system will also include location based GPS.
Types of Sensors: Infrared proximity; depth, sensors that gather 3D information; radar; motion; force; gas; magnetic; inertial measurement units (containing many sensors); proximity; light; temperature; strain gauges; pressure; cameras for taking photos of a user's environment or simply to view the user's environment outside of the headset; inward cameras facing the user's eyes and more.
Input Devices: Different kinds of buttons; touch sensors; track pads; touch displays; keyboards; keypads and more.
Headset Materials: plastic, metal, fiber-composite materials such as carbon-fiber materials, wood and other natural materials, fabric, glass, silicone, other materials, and/or combinations of two or more of these materials.
Apple's patent application outlined in this report was published on Thursday in Europe and not in the U.S. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Some of Apple's Inventors
Jeremy Franklin: Product Design Manager Product Design Manager
Stephen Dey: Product Design Manager
Wey-Jiun Lin: Product Design Engineer Lead
Ivan Marić: product design engineer
Andreas Weber: Technology Investigation. Previous employers include HP Labs, Finisar and Philips Lumileds