Apple patent filing involves Apple Watches with optical sensors for gesture control

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20210157414) for an “optical sensing device” that involves an Apple Watch that can recognize gestures.

In the patent filing, the tech giant optical sensors for detecting light, detecting proximity, taking photographs, or the like have been incorporated into smartphones, tablet computers, wearable devices (e.g., watches, glasses, etc.), and other computing devices, allowing software developers to create engaging software applications (“apps”) for entertainment, productivity, health, and the like. In some instances, optical sensors work in conjunction with a variety of other input mechanisms for interacting with a device (e.g., touchscreens, buttons, microphones for voice commands, etc.). 

However, Apple says that many devices, however, can have limited device interaction and control capabilities due to device size constraints, display size constraints, operational constraints, and the like. For example, small or thin user devices can have a limited number of physical buttons for receiving user input. Similarly, small user devices can have touchscreens with limited space for providing virtual buttons or other virtual user interface elements. 

In addition, some devices can have buttons or other interactive elements that are cumbersome or uncomfortable to use in certain positions or in certain operating conditions. Apple says that, for example, it may be cumbersome to interact with a device using both hands (e.g., holding a device in one hand while engaging interface elements with the other). 

In another example, it may be difficult to press small buttons or engage touchscreen functions while a user’s hands are otherwise occupied or unavailable (e.g., when wearing gloves, carrying groceries, holding a child’s hand, driving, etc.). Apple’s solution for its smartwatch are built-in optical sensors that can recognize a wearer’s gestures.

Here’s the summary of the patent filing: “A wearable device with an optical sensor is disclosed that can be used to recognize gestures of a user wearing the device. Light sources can be positioned on the back or skin-facing side of a wearable device, and an optical sensor can be positioned near the light sources. During operation, light can be emitted from the light sources and sensed using the optical sensor. Changes in the sensed light can be used to recognize user gestures. 

“For example, light emitted from a light source can reflect off a wearer’s skin, and the reflected light can be sensed using the optical sensor. When the wearer gestures in a particular way, the reflected light can change perceptibly due to muscle contraction, device shifting, skin stretching, or the distance changing between the optical sensor and the wearer’s skin. Recognized gestures can be interpreted as commands for interacting with the wearable device.”

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.