Apple Files Patent for Mobile Augmented Reality

The buzz around our open letter to Apple hasn’t subsided yet, and lo and behold, Apple has filed today a patent related to augmented reality .

Although the term Augmented Reality (AR) is not explicitly mentioned in the patent – it describes very common mobile AR scenarios.

Apple patent-090709-1

Technically speaking, you typically need 3 capabilities to enable a mobile AR scenario: sense, overlay, track.

Sense – use sensors to find out what’s in your immediate surroundings (such as visual, GPS, RFID, wifi, IR, etc)

Overlay – Graphically add information that relates to real objects in your field of view

Track – register the graphics so that the virtual elements are aligned with the real objects

Apple’s patent deals with Sensing and Overlaying.

Apple Insider describes it as:

a new identification application apparently under development by Apple that would help identifying objects in a user’s surroundings so that their iPhone can present additional information about the identified objects.

The patent describes scenarios such as:

“the portable electronic device can allow the user to select a mode based on the types of objects that the user wants to identify. Based on the selected mode, the portable electronic device can adjust parameters used for searching an identification database. For example, if the user selects to identify an object in a “MUSEUM” mode, the portable electronic device can search the identification database for objects that are commonly found in a museum. In some embodiments, the portable electronic device can determine the location of the user to help identify an object. For example, if the user is determined to be in Las Vegas and the portable electronic device is set to a “RESTAURANT” mode, the device can limit the search of the identification database to restaurants in Las Vegas.”

As much as it’s encouraging to see Apple’s interest in this domain, it sounds awfully similar to augmented reality research published over the past 10 years.

Moreover, it actually describes the functionality behind existing AR browsing applications already in the market such as Layar, Mobilizy’s World Browser, Tonchidot’s Sekai Camera, Nru, and more!

And how about augmenting Museum experiences? Has anyone at Apple read our roundup of AR museum experiences?

Is there anything new in this patent? Can Apple defend it against previously published AR work? What do you think?

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8 Responses

  1. Sadly, lots of things get patented with no regard for Prior-art.

  2. And people call me paranoid (here would be a great spot for a link to my comment on the open-letter-to-apple post, suspecting that apple doesn’t open up iphone’s full capabilities since they are working on their own AR app)

  3. “awfully similar to augmented reality research published over the past 10 years.”

    Make that 20 years – if not more. Early “modern” AR work dates back to the late 80s, with the very first such systems (Sutherland) having been demonstrated in 1960s. (Of course, not in a mobile form then.)

    Whether the patent gets granted, is anybody’s guess. It will be very frustrating to see that many years after so many people dedicated years of their life to developing those techniques in academia and industry, a later wave of unrelated people will now reap the rewards. Whether it is the Web 2.0 crowd or Apple.

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