Apple has filed a patent application for 3D camera technology that would fit inside an iOS device. The patent application was filed in September and published by the US Patent & Trademark Office yesterday. The abstract refers to "three-dimensional image senseing devices configured to capture an image including one or more objects.
The application, which can be read in full at the US Patent & Trademark Office, was first noticed by Patently Apple. The technology described in the patent employs a variety of sensors - not just a second camera lens - to add depth to recorded images. Such sensors include LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging), lasers, and RADAR (yes, really). The goal of including such sensors is to enable the camera to add depth detail to objects that cannot be obtained just by adding a second camera lens. Here are a couple images from the patent application showing how the technology could work:
While the 3D camera technology described in the patent is itself pretty impressive, what's really interesting is what Apple proposes to do with it. At a couple of points in the application we find references to the kind of platform that could be used to host this kind of 3D camera, and they include "a standalone digital camera, a laptop computer, a media player, a mobile phone, and so on and so forth" (emphasis added). That's right, a 3D camera in a mobile phone. If Apple continues to pursue this technology and it pans out, there could come a day when Apple announces a new iPhone with a built-in 3D camera.
Of course, this is still only a patent application. All it means for the present is that Apple is exploring the possibility of putting 3D cameras in iOS devices. In other words, don't expect to see it in this year's iPhone, or even next year's probably. Indeed, there's no guarantee we'll ever see a 3D camera in a smartphone. Even so, if anybody could put a 3D camera in a smartphone and do it well, Apple's as good a candidate as you're likely to find.
What do you think? Would you like to see 3D camera technology in a smartphone? What about a laptop? Let us know in the comments.