Apple VR headset controller might be a pair of 'thimble' rings

Best VR headset
(Image credit: Andrush/Shutterstock)

From leaks and patent filings, we're starting to get an idea of what the Apple VR headset is likely to look like. And now, thanks to another patent filing, we may be getting a picture of what it will be like to control, too.

Patently Apple has spotted a filing describing a potential controller for Apple's VR, mixed reality and augmented reality hardware ambitions.

The "Self-Mixing Interferometry-Based Gesture Input System Including a Wearable or Handheld Device" patent describes a thimble-like device consisting of two rings worn on thumb and index finger. These would be used to "track a user’s finger movements with reference to any surface, including, in some cases, the surface of another finger, the user’s palm, and so on.“ In doing so, it could be used to "provide input to an AR, VR, or MR application.“


(Image credit: Apple)

Touching from a distance

So how would it work? The patent describes a technique called self-mixing interferometry (SMI). The SMI sensors would send out a short range laser beam, reflecting off objects back into the beam emitter, with a photodetector measuring differences in interferometric properties of the light. 

This data can be used to extrapolate distances and intended interactions between nearby objects and digital ones, and, excitingly, turn real-world objects into surfaces for tactile input in a virtual space.

Such a system could also make use of real-world objects for input, such a stylus, and could provide information on what's being drawn in the digital space – we're guessing things like angles and lengths for technical drawings in VR or AR.

Patents should never be taken as proof of a product in development, but merely point to the experiments that a company is looking to protect. But with the Oculus Quest 2 proving that a standalone headset is more than capable of solid finger tracking, and previous reports pointing to Apple's interest in this space, we'd say this is a likely direction that Apple is looking to move its VR input towards.

Gerald Lynch

Gerald is Editor-in-Chief of Previously he was the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Before TechRadar, Gerald was Editor of Gizmodo UK. He is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press.