Apple’s Latest Patents: Eye Tracking, Tattoo Watch Faces, and More
Apple has filed for three new patents—spanning practical overheat protection to watch faces that display a user's wrist tattoos.
While Apple is notoriously quiet about its future hardware plans, much can be gleaned from the patents the company submits to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In the past month, the Cupertino-based company filed several new patents to upgrade iPhones and Macbooks through new features, both practical and aesthetic.
Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California. Image used courtesy of Arne Müseler
Some of these newly-filed patents indicate forthcoming innovations in eye-tracking technology, in-air gestures, tattoo Apple Watch displays, and anti-overheating accessories.
Combining Eye Tracking and In-air Hand Gestures
In a patent released last month, Apple reported a UI (user interface) navigation technology using eye-tracking and (or gaze-tracking) combined with in-air hand gestures.
The eye and gaze tracking system is able to interpret in-air gesture commands. Image used courtesy of Apple and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Initially used for cognitive and psychological studies, eye-tracking is an emerging augmented reality (AR) technology. This technology uses eye movements as an input, which then enables a computer to gain more contextual information about the user's tasks and makes the interface more intuitive.
However, eye and gaze input is challenging because the eyes are not stable, deteriorating the accuracy of the eye-tracking data. In addition, eye trackers require precise calibration for high accuracy. Eye movements are not always deliberate like keyboard or mouse inputs; these noisy eye movements can lead to false activations.
Many developers have been researching a system that reduces the cognitive burden for users, minimizes false activations, and enables more intuitive and efficient interaction. Apple's new UI navigation patent describes a system of cameras, sensors, and voice inputs that capture the movement of the user's eyes and hand relative to the graphical user interface (GUI).
In the patent, Apple refers to in-air gestures as "hand in space." Image used courtesy of Apple and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
The hand gestures include pinching, scrolling, tapping, and other motions for a number of interactions, including image editing, drawing, presenting, word processing, spreadsheet making, game playing, telephoning, video conferencing, e-mailing, instant messaging, workout support, digital photographing, digital videoing, web browsing, digital music playing, note-taking, or digital video playing.
Change Your Watch Face to Your Wrist Tattoo
In another patent, Apple introduced a possible futuristic smartwatch that could capture a tattoo on the user's arm, ankle, or wrist when the watch covers the tattoo. The next-gen display will also enable users to add color or animation to the tattoo.
This futuristic smartwatch design could capture a tattoo on the user's arm, ankle or wrist when the watch covers the tattoo. Image (modified) used courtesy of Patently Apple
Besides this feature, the patent includes a mixed reality headset with internal cameras that could capture the user's eyes, nose, and other facial features and display them on the face of the headset. This allows others to view the user's face while he or she is wearing the headset.
Thermal Control Accessory for MacBook
Apple also recently published a patent related to an accessory for iPhone and MacBook. The accessory device consists of an inductive charging transmitter and control systems that regulate the temperature setpoints for processors, so the computing device can perform better for an extended period.
The accessory protects the user and the processing units from overheating events. Such events might damage the processing circuits permanently. As Apple suggests in this patent, an additional accessory near the device causes "heat traps" to form due to their position. Processors tend to decrease their operating speed when a threshold temperature is detected. Therefore, the user must often choose between higher capability or protecting the device.
MacBook accessory. Here 1410 refers to the wireless communication circuit, 1408 refers to the magnetic assembly, and 1413 refers to the fan. Image used courtesy of Apple and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
The new attachment eliminates this issue by embedding a thermal control system including temperature sensors and software. The system can monitor multiple processors, and when the temperature exceeds a threshold, the control system restricts the operation of the processor.
The accessory device can also exchange data with the computing device via near-field communication (NFC). If the device is within a predefined distance and is authenticated by the inbuilt authentication protocols, the accessory can exchange vital data that can improve the device's performance. When the computing device is aware that it is covered by a material, it can adjust the setpoint temperature of the control system, allowing the processors to perform better for a longer amount of time.
Thus, this system will allow the MacBook to adjust its temperature setpoints while the accessory charges it.
Some Patents Granted, Some Pending
Since filing these patents, Apple has already received word on several—most notably regarding the eye-tracking technology. According to Patently Apple, the U.S. Office of Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple 67 patents, one of which included its eye-tracking AR/VR system.
The company is still awaiting approval on several other filed patents, including the tattoo watch display and the overheat protection accessory for Macbooks.