Apple files for patents on laser-based head-mounted displays

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
A new series of patent filings by Apple outlines attempts to modernize head-mounted displays (HMDs) that can be plugged into iPods or iPhones by decoupling the image generation components from the headsets themselves, which would pave the way for more lightweight and comfortable designs.



In the primary filing, the electronics maker notes that with most HMDs the displays and optics are typically embedded in the helmet, glasses, or a visor, which is worn by the user. However, this arrangement has several drawbacks, the company explains:



"For one, the displays and optics take up a lot of space. Thus, the HMD may be quite large and therefore unwieldy to use. The weight of these components may further exacerbate this problem. For another, the displays may generate a lot of heat and have large power needs, which again make the HMD difficult to construct and use."



Though there exist several different architectures for producing HMDs -- including transmissive, emissive, and reflective -- Apple's design calls for the use of a micro-electro-mechanical/laser-based architecture. Still, there are concerns associated with laser HMD designs, mainly that the devices can generate a lot of heat and require a large amount of power to operate. Furthermore, some laser technologies also have safety concerns, and thus need to be housed in special enclosures in order to prevent laser leakage.



"As should be appreciated, designing around these constraints and limitations add complexity and cost to the HMD," Apple said. "Moreover, they can make the HMD aesthetically unpleasing, which reduces sales of the HMD."



As such, the company suggests a HMD apparatus that separates the laser engine from the image generator via a fiber optic cable so that the laser engine can be physically decoupled from a headgear.







"By separating the laser engine, a more lightweight compact smaller head mounted display apparatus can be created," Apple said. "Furthermore, concerns over heat, power requirement and safety at the head mounted display apparatus are greatly diminished. Another aspect of the invention relates to utilizing wedge optics to display the video images. Wedge optics are very thin and therefore a low profile head mounted display apparatus can be created. Wedge optics also provide a very large picture."



The decoupled laser engine would be a portable unit that can be carried by the user, or "may include a strap, clip or other attachment means for coupling to the user or an article of clothing thereby making it easily transportable." In such a case, Apple notes that the "user simply wears the head mounted display apparatus that includes the imaging device and displays elements on their head, and attaches the laser engine to their person thereby keeping their hands free to do other tasks."







In the case where the display elements of the HMD are formed from transparent optical materials, the user would also be free to be mobile when images aren't being displayed. For example, the user would be able see through the display unit similar to traditional eye glasses. The decoupled laser engine would not be particularly power hungry and thus could be powered by a small battery rather than a power cable, allowing the user to be free to move anywhere they like.



"In one example of this embodiment, a user simply plugs their handheld video player such as the iPod manufactured by Apple Computer of Cupertino, Calif., into the compact laser engine attached to their belt, and places the headset on their head," Apple said. "The user then selects a video to be played at the handheld video player (viewing through transparent display elements). Once selected, the handheld video player generates a video signal which is processed into synchronized light control signals and image control signals for use by the laser engine and imaging device."







"In essence," the company continued, "the laser engine and imaging device work together to create dual video images in accordance with the video signal being outputted by the handheld video player. Furthermore, the display unit receives the dual video images from the imaging device and presents them for viewing. When video is not being played, no images are being created and thus the display unit act just like glasses. In fact, the head set may further include optical components that are based on the user' eyesight so they can see normally when the system is not operating. Thus, the user is able to select other video for playing without taking off the head gear. If the laser engine further includes a battery, the user can be very mobile while utilizing and wearing the system 50 (e.g., not limited to the length of a power cord)."



Additionally, the fiber optic cable coupling the detached laser engine to the headgear could also be configured to include an audio line that provides audio signals in parallel with the video images. As such, the head mounted display apparatus may include integrated earphones capable of transmitting audio signals to the user's ears. The audio line could be an electrical line or an optical line, Apple said. "In some cases, the optical line used to transmit the RGB laser light is also used to send audio signals (e.g., multifunctionality)."







The iPod maker goes on to note that various enhancements may be applied to further improve its HMD concept. For example, the HMD may provide methods and apparatus for providing a wider field of view and creating a more natural viewing situation for a user of a head mounted display, which results in improved comfort and usability for head mounted displays.



The Apple HMD may also provide methods and apparatus for treating the peripheral area of a user's field of view in a head mounted display, and thereby creating improved comfort and usability for head mounted displays.



All three of the related filings are credited to Apple employee John Tang, with Apple iPod chief Anthony Fadell providing some input on the peripheral treatment filing.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 41
    I love that Apple may come up with something like this one day. I know that there is at least one other company that sells "video glasses" through Sharper Image- and those airline magazines- that also runs off a video iPod. I"m assuming the big difference here is that Apple's version would be less bulky (and probably much better looking). Does anyone know anything about patents- and could explain a little more what exactly is being protected in what Apple is describing? I"m just curious- it always seems like the patent drawing and description have lots of 'black box' areas or parts where something magically happens to get whatever the thing is to work.
  • Reply 2 of 41
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,951member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Taylorman View Post


    I love that Apple may come up with something like this one day. I know that there is at least one other company that sells "video glasses" through Sharper Image- and those airline magazines- that also runs off a video iPod. I"m assuming the big difference here is that Apple's version would be less bulky (and probably much better looking). Does anyone know anything about patents- and could explain a little more what exactly is being protected in what Apple is describing? I"m just curious- it always seems like the patent drawing and description have lots of 'black box' areas or parts where something magically happens to get whatever the thing is to work.



    I don't see that here, it looks pretty clear to me. But it also looks like an adaptation of DLP to goggles.
  • Reply 3 of 41
    Dang, when I first read the headline I thought Apple was working on re-inventing the first-person shooter game.



    Oh, well. Need some sleep.
  • Reply 4 of 41
    I don't think you could possibly look worse in public than wearing one of those
  • Reply 5 of 41
    boogabooga Posts: 1,082member
    All I want is frikkin geeks with frikkin laser beams attached to their foreheads! Is that so much to ask!!
  • Reply 6 of 41
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Booga View Post


    All I want is frikkin geeks with frikkin laser beams attached to their foreheads! Is that so much to ask!!



  • Reply 7 of 41
    quinneyquinney Posts: 2,528member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    "In essence," the company continued, "the laser engine and imaging device work together to create dual video images in accordance with the video signal being outputted by the handheld video player. Furthermore, the display unit receives the dual video images from the imaging device and presents them for viewing.



    Dual images eh? So could it display 3D if the video images were

    created that way?
  • Reply 8 of 41
    buckbuck Posts: 293member
    So how's the system going to adjust to your eye's lens following different objects? In other words it should have a focusing mechanism that knows if you look at something 2 feet or 2 miles away.
  • Reply 9 of 41
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by chadisawesome View Post


    I don't think you could possibly look worse in public than wearing one of those



    They will come in Elton John approved styles, LOL.
  • Reply 10 of 41
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by chadisawesome View Post


    I don't think you could possibly look worse in public than wearing one of those



    Not worse, but pretty damn close.



    ? http://www.myvu.com/Products/soloplus/



    I really want to try it out first before I buy it and would like it to work with my iPhone without going into Airplane mode, though I plan to mainly use it while flying, but I may finally give in and buy it.
  • Reply 11 of 41
    801801 Posts: 271member
    Umm, you suppose that Steve Jobs Gulfstar jet gets those AirMall catalogs stuffed into the seatbacks, do you?



    And, as he is flying along in corporate comfort, he is sitting there looking at these devices thinking that they look like a good idea?



    Or maybe the kids are getting antsy, jumping up and down in their seats at 35,000 feet, bugging him for them? I can just see it now...





    Kids (togeather): Are the only movies on this plane pixar movies? We seen them all a million times. We want High School Musical. Wha!



    Laurene - Their right Steve, and I feel the same way. I can't take it anymore. If it wasn't for Pirates of Silicon Valley, I would have lost my mind long ago on these trips. Look here, (handing him the airmall catalog) glasses that have movies screens on them, with these, everyone could watch what they want and not distrurb the people sitting next to them.



    Steve - (turning and swatting at the rugrats with his weekly report)

    "OK, OK, enough already, I'll get the optical engineering department on it right away, now will you please sit down.



    Kids (togeather)" Yea!"

    The kids start chanting loudly togeather:

    " Just -one - more- thing! Just -one - more - thing!"



    Steve turns to Laurene: (Shaking his head)" Honey, I just don't gronk them sometimes."



    (Applause over kids chanting, Fade , pull away shot from Steves face in the window of the jet.)
  • Reply 12 of 41
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,542member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by chadisawesome View Post


    I don't think you could possibly look worse in public than wearing one of those



    Yeah, like having an earphone and microphone sprouting from the side of your head, while you walk around talking to yourself.



    No one would be stupid enough to do that.
  • Reply 13 of 41
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,542member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Buck View Post


    So how's the system going to adjust to your eye's lens following different objects? In other words it should have a focusing mechanism that knows if you look at something 2 feet or 2 miles away.



    That can be done.



    For over ten years, Canon has had follow focus in some of their cameras that knows where in the viewfinder you are looking, and has the camera focus where you are looking.



    Whether they have a patent on that I don't know.
  • Reply 14 of 41
    g5mang5man Posts: 91member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    Yeah, like having an earphone and microphone sprouting from the side of your head, while you walk around talking to yourself.



    No one would be stupid enough to do that.



  • Reply 15 of 41
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,503member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Not worse, but pretty damn close.



    ? http://www.myvu.com/Products/soloplus/



    I really want to try it out first before I buy it and would like it to work with my iPhone without going into Airplane mode, though I plan to mainly use it while flying, but I may finally give in and buy it.



    Well, frack me.
  • Reply 16 of 41
    zanshinzanshin Posts: 350member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    That can be done.



    For over ten years, Canon has had follow focus in some of their cameras that knows where in the viewfinder you are looking, and has the camera focus where you are looking.



    Whether they have a patent on that I don't know.



    Shoot, we had heads-up guidance that steered missiles to target by following where the WO's eyes looked during fly-by in the early 70s.
  • Reply 17 of 41
    asciiascii Posts: 5,936member
    Ahh.. Apple is moving ahead with their new iCyborg strategy. Apple in your den, your pocket, your car and ... your body



    Speaking of cyborgs if they could figure out how to feed images directly in to the visual cortex you wouldn't need to lug all that laser gear around. But that's the next-next generation.
  • Reply 18 of 41
    iGoggles
  • Reply 19 of 41
    Bono would be a natural.
  • Reply 20 of 41
    zanshinzanshin Posts: 350member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by coffeetime View Post


    Bono would be a natural.



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