Apple has been granted a second patent (number 20170205873, the others are 20170205873 and 9,898,074) for a “scanning depth engine.” It involves a Mac with the ability to generate a 3D profile of an object by processing an optical image of the object.
Think of it as a sort of photocopier for 3-D objects. Also, it’s like a portable Kinect device that would allow users to interact with games or exercise videos played on a Mac — or perhaps an Apple TV.
This sort of 3D profile is also referred to as a 3D map, depth map or depth image, and 3D mapping is also referred to as depth mapping. Depth maps can be used in interactive gaming, creating shadows cast by illumination in 3D computer graphics, adding realism by simulating the semi-transparent properties of translucent materials such as human skin, and more.
Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “Mapping apparatus includes a transmitter, which is configured to emit at least one beam including a sequence of pulses of light toward a plurality of points in a scene. A receiver is configured to receive the light reflected from the scene and to generate an output indicative of a time of flight of the pulses to and from the points in the scene.
“A processor is coupled to process the output of the receiver so as to generate a 3D map of the scene, while controlling a power level of the pulses emitted by the transmitter responsively to a level of the output from the receiver in response to one or more previous pulses.”
Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.
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