Apple Files Patent For AR Tech That Conceals Virtual Objects Behind Real Ones

by Jamie Feltham • April 20th, 2017

While it remains to be seen what Apple is doing in the VR space (if anything), the company has made its interest in AR clear over the past year. Today, a new patent from the company has been published, further supporting rumors it is getting increasingly involved with the tech.

The patent details “a method for representing a virtual object in a real environment”. To do this, the company has devised a system in which a “recording device”, possibly an iPhone, captures a 2D image of the environment in front of it. The system then takes one aspect of that environment as a reference point for a virtual object’s position in the real world. That allows any virtual project to collide with items in the real world “in a way largely close to reality.”

New Apple AR Patent 1

In the context of the patent Apple utilizes a fairly common use case for both virtual and augmented reality: furniture placement. Several images and figures in the document show a virtual image of a chair being projected into the room and being placed next to an identical set of real chairs and a desk. The virtual chair appears to become obscured when moved around to the back of the table from where the user is looking.

Apple’s patent claims this can provide an intuitive assessment “of the suitability of various products for a purpose of use” or, in simpler terms, help you decide what stuff to buy without needing the real product there and then.

So, in theory, with Apple’s AR method, you could have a game of Pokemon GO where Pikachu isn’t always oddly at the very front of the screen but might become concealed by a chair if he walks behind it.

It’s the latest in a string of patents from Apple that suggest the company is serious about AR. Last February we uncovered a filing for a ‘Wearable Information System’, and we’ve even seen one for a wireless VR headset using iPhone.

Sadly the patent doesn’t go into explicit detail about what type of device might power this method, though if Apple is going to get into AR soon then it is a safe bet that the first attempts will appear on iPhone.

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  • Lovetoowatch

    Can i be the first to say this is about as stupid as patenting the damn curve of a corner of a phone.

    • random_name

      I agree. This is a poor patent in my opinion.

  • Lovetoowatch

    I would love to hear your opinion on this Jamie.

  • I am truly amazed by this and will have to dig deeper, but I have commented several times on how absurd it is that Apple is granted patents on so many vague or even blatant ripoffs of existing ideas, concepts and processes already publicly disclosed. Someone already mentioned Microsoft’s Hololens, but as mobile VR developer working with Occipital’s Bridge SDK, I can definitely say I was doing this in early 2015. Also their patent allows for way too many options and variables. It is almost like they are paying someone in the patent office to rubber stamp these. Maybe they should actually start spending money to bring some of these “great” patents to market instead of sitting back and letting everyone else do the work.

  • What with product which do it already? Because it isn’t nothing new…

  • Jesus Garcia

    Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) with object Occlusions are not a new idea. It has been done by Microsoft (Hololens) and Google (Project Tango). This article makes it sound like Apple is getting a patent on the idea.

    If one actually read the patent in its entirety. He/She would realize that this is a Process patent. It explains Apples implementation of the idea, which differs from approaches taken by other groups.

    It is like Coke and Pepsi producing a cola. Not a new idea, just different ingredients and steps to make the syrup.

    • Jack H

      I had a skim of the patent, is this essentially a method aimed at Snapchat-style filters but with input to allow for occlusion? It seemed like it wouldn’t be defensible against SLAM implementations.