Apple Glasses Patent Suggests Any Surface Could Become a Virtual Touch Interface

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It’s been increasingly clear that Apple has been working on an AR/VR Headset for the consumer market. Originally expected as early as 2020, the most recent rumors place its release in 2021 or 2022.


But what’s been less clear is the exact feature set a pair of AR/VR Apple Glasses will provide. Rumors have been scattered over the functionality with some internal debate about the direction of the unreleased headset — ranging from an ultra-powerful wearable product vs a more limited accessory to the iPhone.

A newly revealed patent application from Apple uncovered by Appleinsider shows some intriguing research that Apple has been doing into the field as far back as 2016.

In the patent, Apple addresses the question of how someone wearing a pair of ‌Apple Glasses‌ would be able to interact with the mixed virtual/real environment that they are looking at. When using an ‌iPhone‌ or iPad as an AR viewfinder, the user would typically tap on the screen to interact with objects shown on the screen. But when wearing an AR headset, the same task would be cumbersome. Previous attempts at directly interacting with an AR environment required additional hardware such as a glove or finger sensors. Meanwhile, trying to visually detect finger-to-surface contact is not accurate enough to be useful.

Apple describes that they can more elegantly accomplish this task by using infrared heat sensing to detect when a user touches a real world object.

The present disclosure is related to a method and device for detecting a touch between at least part of a first object and at least part of a second object, wherein the at least part of the first object has a different temperature than the at least part of the second object. The method includes providing at least one thermal image of a portion of the second object, determining in at least part of the at least one thermal image a pattern which is indicative of a particular value or range of temperature or a particular value or range of temperature change, and using the determined pattern for detecting a touch between the at least part of the first object and the at least part of the second object.

The method could then allow ‌Apple Glasses‌ to visually project controls onto real world objects and react when they are touched by the user by sensing the heat transfer when touching the object.

As with all patent applications, we can’t be certain Apple will incorporate this technology into their future products. But we do believe Apple is planning on releasing an Apple AR/VR headset. Full details can be found in our Apple Glasses roundup.

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