Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a continuation patent from Apple that describes systems, devices, and techniques related to wearable user input devices, such as a glove, patch, thimble, partial hand covering, glasses, clothing, and/or other wearable items attachable to a user. In some instances, what you see in our cover graphic is what's actually inside VR gloves and not necessarily standalone devices.
The user input device includes a flexible fabric and/or conformable material configured to attach to a user at one or more locations. For example, the flexible fabric may include a first portion (or first attachment piece) configured to attach to a user at a first location and a second portion (or second attachment piece) configured to attach to a user at a second location. The first and second portions may expand and contract to conform the flexible fabric to the user. The device facilitates an immersive environment within which a user may interact with a computing device.
The user input device may be used to control or interact with a virtual environment represented on a virtual reality device. The virtual reality device may include any appropriate device configured to create a visually immersive three-dimensional environment.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below depicts an example user input device #104 which may include measurement circuitry to determine a position and/or input configuration of the user input device. The user input device may also include a haptic feedback structure configured to provide haptic feedback based on the identified input configuration of the user input device and/or in response to an instruction from an associated computing device.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 above presents a simplified cross-sectional view of layers of primary sensing region #144. The primary sensing region may be associated with a portion of the flexible fabric #128 that is moveable by a user to define an input configuration; FIG. 3 presents a simplified cross-sectional view of layers of secondary sensing region #148a.
Apple's patent FIGS. 14A and 14B and 15A – 15B below illustrates the use of the gloves in playing interactive games; FIG. 18A – 18B depicts an example computing system with a user input device having a dynamically configurable light source; FIGS. 19A and 19B depicts a user input device interacting with a holographic projection; and lastly FIGS. 20A and 20B depicts a user input device interacting with a magnetic field
So, what's changed in today's continuation patent? Apple has added a whole tier of patent claims relating to motion sensors added to the gloves.
New: Motion Sensors
- A user input device, comprising: a first attachment piece that attaches to a first fingertip of a user without covering at least a portion of the first fingertip; a first motion sensor in the first attachment piece that gathers first motion sensor data; a second attachment piece that attaches to a second fingertip of the user without covering at least a portion of the second fingertip; a second motion sensor in the second attachment piece that gathers second motion sensor data; and control circuitry that determines a position of the first attachment piece relative to the second attachment piece based on the first motion sensor data and the second motion sensor data.
- A user input device, comprising: an attachment piece that attaches to a fingertip of a user and that leaves at least part of the fingertip uncovered; a force sensor in the attachment piece that gathers force data as the fingertip presses against an external surface; a motion sensor in the attachment piece that gathers motion data as the fingertip moves; a haptic output device in the attachment piece that provides haptic output to the fingertip; and control circuitry that adjusts the haptic output based on the force data and the motion data.
- The user input device defined in claim 11 wherein the force sensor comprises a strain gauge and the motion sensor comprises an accelerometer.
- The user input device defined in claim 11 further comprising a communication module that transmits user input signals to an external computing device based on the force data and the motion data.
- The user input device defined in claim 13 wherein the external computing device comprises a virtual reality device that presents a virtual environment and wherein the control circuitry determines a position of the fingertip within the virtual environment based on the motion data.
- A user input device, comprising: attachment pieces that respectively attach to individual fingertips of a user; motion sensors in the attachment pieces that measure positions of the attachment pieces relative to each other; haptic output devices that provide haptic output to the individual fingertips; and control circuitry that adjusts the haptic output to the individual fingertips based on the positions of the attachment pieces relative to each other.
It's always a healthy sign when Apple's engineering and legal teams update a patent via a continuation patent as it goes to show that the patent is being advanced and protected for future use.
We know that Apple is working on both AR glasses and a mixed reality HMD. In order to play games, Apple will need to make accessories available so as to allow a user to interact with various virtual environments. VR gloves is one of a few input devices options being considered.
Apple's continuation patent 20200257362 that was published today by the U.S. Patent Office was originally filed back in Q2 2020.
In May Patently Apple posted a patent report covering this patent titled "Apple Wins Major Patent for Next-Gen Input Gloves, Thimbles, Glasses & other Wearable Attachments for VR+." For more details of this invention, check out our previous report on this here.
Considering that this is a continuation patent, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.