Apple may integrate multiple cameras in future devices with flexible housings to assist users in capturing vastly superior panoramic photos
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to future foldable devices with multiple cameras integrated into the flexible housing that could capture vastly superior panoramic photos by having the cameras in different locations on the housing providing different angles.
Apple notes that it can be challenging to capture panoramic images with a traditional wide-angle camera on an iPhone. The images may likely become blurred due to camera movement and/or portions of a scene may move during image capture operations. Alignment issues may also arise causing desired portions of an image to be cut off unintentionally.
Apple's invention covers devices that may have a flexible housing formed from flexible fabric, flexible polymer, or other flexible materials. The electronic device may have multiple cameras that are mounted at various locations across the flexible housing.
The housing may be bent into different configurations such as a configuration in which the housing has a convex surface facing the exterior region and a configuration in which the housing has a concave surface facing the exterior region.
The cameras on the curved surface of a bent housing may have different camera image capture directions. By orienting the cameras in desired directions by bending the housing, the cameras can be used to capture panoramic images or three-dimensional images.
More specifically, cameras distributed across the device and can be used to capture multiple images of a scene. In some arrangements, the cameras can be oriented so that their fields of view fan out and allow the device to capture overlapping images of a scene that are stitched together to form a composite panoramic image.
In other arrangements, the cameras can be oriented so that their fields of view converge on an object from different angles. This allows three-dimensional images of the object to be captured.
To allow the cameras of the electronic device to be placed in multiple different orientations, the electronic device may have a reconfigurable housing to which the cameras are mounted. The electronic device may, as an example, have portions that are sufficiently pliable to allow the electronic device to be flexed along its length and thereby configured to orient the cameras in a desired arrangement.
In some illustrative arrangements, hinges or other structures may be used to allow structures in a device and the cameras mounted these structures to be reoriented with respect to each other. Arrangements in which multiple separate devices are used together in a system to capture images that are stitched together and/or that are processed to form three-dimensional images may also be used.
Apple further notes that housing walls, internal housing support structures, and/or portions of housing may be formed from flexible fabric.
In another illustrative arrangement, flexible housing walls and other flexible housing portions may be formed using flexible polymer and/or flexible sheets of metal. In general, the housing of devices may be formed from any suitable structures that accommodate bending and may include polymer, metal, glass, crystalline material such as sapphire, ceramic, fabric, fibers, fiber composite material, natural materials such as wood and cotton, other materials, and/or combinations of such materials.
Apple's patent FIG. 4 below is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative flexible device such as Apple Watch with a flexible wristband with a camera built into the main body and two more cameras integrated into the flexible band; FIG. 9 is a perspective view of an illustrative MacBook with multiple cameras (seven illustrated).
Apple's patent FIG. 6 below is a cross-sectional side view of foldable device that has been placed in a configuration with cameras facing away from each other; FIG. 7 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative electronic device that has been placed in a configuration with cameras facing towards each other in accordance with an embodiment; FIG. 8 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative system with a flexible cover and removable device, such as an iPad and iPad Cover.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 is a perspective view of an illustrative flexible device that isn't identified. The device is shown with a display that is configured to display a preview of an image captured using multiple cameras located on a curved housing wall (three of them).
Earlier today Patently Apple posted another IP report titled "Apple Invents Object Tracking and Recognition of Objects, Including In-Air hand Gestures, for Future HMD & Glasses." Apple illustrated a future HMD with dual cameras that falls in line with this current invention. A Bloomberg report posted today pointed to Apple's HMD would likely be made with fabric, falling in-line with this latest patent.
A few of the specialty sensors that could be used to capture superior panoramic photos include depth sensors, optical sensors such as self-mixing sensors and light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors that gather time-of-flight measurements, three-dimensional sensors (e.g., time-of-flight image sensors, pairs of two-dimensional image sensors that gather three-dimensional images using binocular vision, three-dimensional structured light sensors that emit an array of infrared light beams or other structured light using arrays of lasers or other light emitters and associated optical components and that capture images of the spots created as the beams illuminate target objects, and/or other three-dimensional image sensors) and more.
For finer details, review Apple's patent application number 20210021768. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.