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 (opens in new tab) 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.“
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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.
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