Apple advances their Directional Haptic Output System with Spatial Audio for Future AirPods, Glasses and AR Headset
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a continuation patent from Apple relating to wearable electronic devices, such as AirPods Pro and smartglasses, that could produce haptic outputs that could be felt by wearers. More importantly, the haptics could provide users with a distinct directional sensation that would direct the user's attention to look in a direction in a virtual teleconference and beyond. The patent discusses the use of spatial audio in a video conference which was just introduced at WWDC21.
Apple's patent is generally directed to wearable electronic devices that include haptic actuators, and more particularly, to haptic outputs that are coordinated with a position of a virtual object (which may correspond to or represent a person, an audio source, an instrument, a graphical object, etc.) relative to the wearer of the electronic device.
The wearable electronic devices may include an array of haptic actuators (e.g., two or more haptic actuators) that can be actuated according to an actuation pattern in order to direct the wearer's attention in a particular direction.
For example, an array of haptic actuators in contact with various locations on a wearer's head may be actuated in a pattern that produces a sensation having a distinct directional component. More particularly, the user may feel the pattern moving left or right. The user may then be motivated to turn his or her head or body in the direction indicated by the haptic pattern.
Indicating a direction via directional haptic outputs may be used to enhance various types of interactions with audio and/or visual content, and in particular to enhance interaction with content that has a real or virtual position relative to the wearer, and/or content that has a visual or audible component.
Apple's patent FIGS. 2A-2B below depict an example head-mounted haptic accessory; FIGS. 3A-3B depict another example head-mounted haptic accessory; FIGS. 4A-4B depict another example head-mounted haptic accessory; FIG. 9 depicts an example chart showing differences between various head-mounted haptic accessories.
In Apple's patent FIGS. 10A-10B and 11below we see a depiction of participants in a teleconference. For example, detecting the condition may include or correspond to detecting a presence of an audio source in an audio signal, where the audio source may be associated with a virtual position relative to the user. More particularly, as described in greater detail with respect to FIGS. 10A-10B, if the user is engaged in a conference call with multiple participants, each participant may have an assigned virtual location relative to the user. In this case, detecting the condition may include detecting that one of the participants is speaking or otherwise producing audio. Detecting the condition may also include detecting whether a characteristic of a signal, including but not limited to a volume or amplitude of an audio output corresponding to an audio signal, has satisfied a threshold value. For example, in the context of a multi-party conference call, detecting the condition may include detecting that an audio output associated with one of the participants has satisfied a threshold value (e.g., a threshold volume).
Apple's patent FIGS. 12A-B below is another example of directional haptic output that may be used to direct a user's attention towards the position of a graphical object in a virtual or augmented reality environment; FIGS. 14A-14B depict a spatial arrangement of a user and two audio sources.
Today, the U.S. Patent Office published Apple's continuation patent wherein Apple has completely cancelled their original patent 20 claims covering this invention which specifically covered "A Method."
With this being an important invention that Apple has in-part integrated into iOS 15 and beyond, Apple has introduced 20 new patent claims that now covers "A head-mounted electronic System."
The majority of the new claims relate to bringing spatial audio to Apple's future headwear like an AR Headset as depicted in patent figures 12A and 12B above. Below are just a few of the new patent claims:
Patent Claim# 21: "A head-mounted electronic system comprising: a display device configured to display a virtual-reality environment, the virtual-reality environment including a virtual object; an audio device configured to produce audio outputs associated with the virtual-reality environment; and a haptic output system configured to produce a haptic output associated with the virtual-reality environment, wherein the haptic output indicates a virtual position of the virtual object within the virtual-reality environment."
Patent Claim #22: "The head-mounted electronic system of claim 21, wherein: the head-mounted electronic system further comprises: a sensor system configured to determine an orientation of a wearer's head; and a processor configured to determine an actuation pattern for the haptic output system based at least in part on the virtual position of the virtual object and the orientation of the wearer's head; and the actuation pattern is configured to direct the wearer's attention toward the virtual position of the virtual object."
Patent Claim #28: A head-mounted electronic system comprising: a head-mounted accessory comprising: a display configured to display a computer-generated virtual object to a wearer; and an array of haptic actuators configured to produce a directional haptic output that is configured to direct the wearer's attention along a direction; and an audio system configured to produce an audio output.
Patent Claim #29: "The head-mounted electronic system of claim 28, wherein the array of haptic actuators comprises: a first haptic actuator configured to produce a first tactile sensation to a first area of the wearer's body; and a second haptic actuator configured to produce a second tactile sensation to a second area of the wearer's body."
Patent Claim #40: The wearable electronic system further comprises: a first temple piece configured to support the wearable electronic system on a first ear of the wearer; and a second temple piece configured to support the wearable electronic system on a second ear of the wearer; and the first head-mounted haptic actuator is positioned on the first temple piece; and the second head-mounted haptic actuator is positioned on the second temple piece.
To review the other added patent claims, check out Apple's continuation patent 20210176548. Today's patent is partially fulfilled with spatial audio coming to iOS 15 FaceTime. The next and more important phase of this patent will be directed at Apple's AR Headset, smartglasses and possible head banner accessory where the haptics component will come into play.