Apple patents way to fix VR headsets’ worst problem

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Alex Heath gets down in the Oculus booth. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
VR headsets are still bulky AF.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Bulky virtual reality headsets may soon look like retro relics if Apple’s designers have their way.

Details of a new patent from Apple reveal the company is investigating different ways to reduce the size of bulky augmented reality and virtual reality headsets. The patents specifically mentions a tech that its rivals aren’t using, which could give it big advantage if it enters the market.

Apple hasn’t revealed much about its augmented reality plans so far other than saying its an area of intense interest. The company is rumored to have hundreds of employees working on both virtual realtiy and augmented reality devices. CEO Tim Cook has been enthusiastic about augmented reality’s future more than VR.

In the new patent unearthed by Slashgear, Apple throws shade at the Oculus Rift and other headsets that use a series of lenses and displays by calling them “bulky and heavy”. The patent’s summary warns that “if care is not taken, a head-mounted display may be cumbersome and tiring to wear.”

Apple’s patent proposes using a catadioptric system to reduce weight and slim down its headset. Catadioptric systems use curved mirrors and lenses to refract and reflect light in the system.

By switching to a catadioptric system Apple could do away with the magnifying lenses VR headsets use to make images larger. The system is used in microscopes telescopes and telephoto lenses.

Of course, just because Apple is investigating the technology and filing patents on it, that doesn’t mean a product is acually coming out. Apple files hundreds of patents that it doesn’t intend to use immediately in products.