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It’s no secret that Apple thinks augmented reality could be the next big thing — just look at ARKit. But a recent patent application suggests that Apple’s AR focus could extend far beyond gaming and home decor.
The patent in question brings AR to a much more serious field: health and wellness. Here’s what you need to know.
Basically, the recent Apple patent explores how augmented reality could be used to aid people who are visually impaired better see the world around them.
The patent, “Augmented Reality Device to Warp Images,” was published on Tuesday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And while it’s far from an easy beach read, it does shine a light on the various area that Apple is considering in its AR development.
Essentially, the patent describes an imaging system (like a camera) that captures the environment directly in front of a user. In other words, it would capture the view that a user sees with their own eyes. But it doesn’t just stop there.
The system would then take a portion of that field-of-view, process it further by “warping” it, then displays it in front of a user’s eyes — presumably using a heads-up display method.
Why would this be useful? The patent gives an example. If one part of a user’s vision is impaired or destroyed, the warping could allow that obscured part to still be visible in a user’s field of view. They’d be able to see that part of their vision that they normally wouldn’t.
The system incorporates other ideas, too. For example, the supposed AR headset would use eye tracking technology to analyze where a user is looking. That way, the benefits aren’t lost if they look into a different direction.
While the patent illustrates the technology using a handheld device like an iPhone or iPad, there’s a pretty obvious use scenario: augmented reality glasses.
Apple’s AR Glasses
This is far from the first AR or wearable headset patent that Apple has filed in recent years. But looking beyond patent applications (which aren’t always a great indication of Apple’s future plans), there’s still a ton of evidence to suggest that Apple AR glasses are in the works.
Apple is widely rumored to be working on a pair of first-party, mixed-reality (MR) glasses. While not much is known about Apple’s AR glasses, past rumors have suggested that it’s meant to be a standalone device with its own “rOS” operating system and App Store.
The fact that it could work on its own suggests that it could be a viable contender for an iPhone replacement down the road. (Just look at the Apple Watch and you’ll see an example of a wearable device gaining autonomy over the years.)
There’s no firm release date set for the rumored AR glasses, but past repeats have suggested that they could debut in 2020 at the earliest. Other recent reports suggest Apple may have scrapped its AR glasses altogether.