It’s incredibly foolhardy to ascribe any concrete plans to Apple based on the publishing of a patent. The company is incredibly prolific in this department, publishing literally thousands a year. Sometimes, however, a patent is interesting enough to point out just because it indicates that the very smart engineers at the company are even thinking about a topic.
That’s the category that a patent granted to Apple today falls into. It’s entitled “Peripheral treatment for head-mounted displays” and it centers around techniques for projecting an image onto the eyes of a user via a viewable display. Much in the way that Google’s Project Glass appears to work.
Here’s the abstract description from the patent:
A first display projects an image viewable by a first eye of the user. A first peripheral light element is positioned to emit light of one or more colors in close proximity to the periphery of the first display. A receives data representing a source image, processes the data representing the source image to generate a first image for the first display and to generate a first set of peripheral conditioning signals for the first peripheral light element, directs the first image to the first display, and directs the first set of peripheral conditioning signals to the first peripheral light element.
Basically, there are one or two LCDs used to project an image onto a user’s eyes. Displays like this normally do not project an image into the peripheral vision of a user, instead taking on the appearance of a ‘screen’ floating out in space. This patent is a spin on that behavior, outlining the mechanics of a system that would fill the peripheral vision as well as the ‘direct’ vision of a user.
This means that the system is designed for a ‘full immersion’ device, not a ‘walk around’ device like Project Glass, although it shares many of the same properties of a ‘near-to-eye’ system like Glass. These head mounted displays (HMDs) have long been thought to be a natural progression of personalized computer displays.
The patent also talks about the two images being projected stereoscopically to each eye. This creates a feeling of immersion that can eliminate the motion sickness typically exhibited with HMDs and increase brightness as well as produce a larger field of view.
Note that a New York Times story late last year indicated that Apple had begun working on projects that would “become wearable computers.” Apple hired a wearable computing engineer back in 2010 and it has also filed other patents for wearable computing dating back to 2008.
So, this patent definitely does not mean that Apple is in the process of producing a piece of wearable ‘iGlasses’ or anything of the sort, but it definitely does show that some very smart people at the company are thinking about ways to make wearable computing more accessible and immersive. And that’s exciting enough for me.