Apple eyes the smart home market with ‘flexible room controls’

Apple has an eye on expanding its presence in the smart home market as evidenced by a newly granted patent (for “flexible room controls”). It involves human-machine interfaces, and particularly to user controls in a room or building. 

In the patent filing, Apple notes that locations of room controls, such as electrical switches and climate-control thermostats, are generally chosen during the architectural design of a building, and the controls are then hard-wired in place within the walls during construction. If the resident later wishes to add controls or move existing controls to another location, it will generally be necessary to break holes in the wall, run new wiring, and then repair and repaint. Apple thinks it can do better with a flexible room control system that works via projectors, a virtual control pad, and gestures.

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “Control apparatus includes an optical subsystem, which is configured to direct first light toward a scene that includes a hand of a user in proximity to a wall of a room and to receive the first light that is reflected from the scene, and to direct second light toward the wall so as to project an image of a control device onto the wall. A processor is configured to control the optical subsystem so as to generate, responsively to the received first light, a depth map of the scene, to process the depth map so as to detect a proximity of the hand to the wall in a location of the projected image, and to control electrical equipment in the room responsively to the proximity.”

Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.