Apple’s AR tech lets users add and remove objects in the virtual world

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Augmented reality (or AR) could be the next big thing for Apple.
Augmented reality could be the next big thing for Apple.
Photo: USPTO

Tim Cook has made no secret about Apple’s interest in augmented reality tech — and a newly published patent application reveals just how seriously the company takes the technology.

The patent application describes techniques for inserting virtual objects into a real environment, or removing real objects from a virtual one, all in real time.

Called “Method and device for illustrating a virtual object in a real environment,” the application is less concerned with individual uses than in describing how the hardware and software framework for this could be made possible.

The ability to accurately superimpose virtual objects into a real scene is an enormous tech challenge requiring detailed positioning data, edge detection, image scaling and more.

If it’s going to be carried out in an effective, useful manner, Apple needs the technology to work flawlessly. That’s exactly what’s described in this patent application. The tech would draw on the high-def camera, image-processing capabilities and localization hardware found in modern iOS devices.

The patent application details things like how Apple would determine three-dimensional depth from a 2D image, or how to deal with challenges like complex texture information.

Interestingly, the patent wasn’t originally filed by Apple. Instead, it’s an extension of a patent that was awarded to German augmented reality company Metaio. Metaio, which specializes in creating augmented reality tools for other businesses, started life as an offshoot project at Volkswagon in 2003.

It went on to develop tech used by Ferrari, virtual shopping systems and other app developers, before being acquired by Apple in 2015.

Apple’s plans for AR

As you might expect from such a secretive company, Apple has not exactly been forthcoming about its plans for implementing augmented reality. According to reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple focused more and more on AR after its autonomous car project began to stall.

Right now, Apple supposedly has hundreds of engineers developing both AR and VR headsets. It plans to introduce AR features first to the iPhone, and then possibly later for a standalone headset.

One recent Bloomberg article described several possible applications for augmented reality tech, including the ability to take a photo and then change its depth or isolate certain images within it. Another possible implementation would let viewers use AR to put virtual effects and objects onto a person, like a next-gen Photo Booth.

Earlier this month, a rumor claimed the new iPhone will boast a Smart Connector designed to connect to augmented reality accessories.

Are you excited about the possibilities of augmented reality technology? Leave your comments below.

Via: Patently Apple