Patent report: Macs and Apple TVs with ‘3D, gaze-enhanced’ interfaces, more

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, so here are today’s patent highlights: 

Apple has repeatedly denied plans for adding touch screens to its Mac line (though I think it will happen), but a newly granted patent (number 9,377,863) hints at an iMac with a “3D, gaze-enhanced virtual touchscreen.” The invention probably takes advantage of technology that Apple acquired when it bought a company called PrimeSense, an Israeli gesture recognition company, in 2013.

This patent, and others like it, provide a user interface in which 3D sensing technology allows the Mac to “observe” a scene in three dimensions and react accordingly. The computer could “see” what you’re gazing at on its screen, as well as watch your hand gestures, to generate a sequence of three-dimensional (3D) maps. The 3D maps are analyzed to detect a gesture performed by the user, and an operation is performed on the selected interactive item in response to the gesture.

And if you’re going to be able to control an iMac via gaze and gestures, might as well be able to control your Apple TV by hand gestures, as well. Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,377,865) fora “zoom-based gesture user interface” that would allow this on the set-top box, as well as an iMac.

The patent involves an interactive video display system, in which a display screen displays a visual image, and a camera captures 3D information regarding an object in an interactive area located in front of the display screen. A computer system — which, technically, the Apple TV kinda is — directs the display screen to change the visual image in response to changes in the object. 

Finally, Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,378,755) for “detecting a user’s voice activity using dynamic probabilistic models of speed features.” It’s designed to improve Siri, Apple’s voice activated personal digital assistant, by reducing background noise.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that when using electronic devices that receive speech via microphone ports or headsets, a common complaint is that the speech captured by the microphone port or the headset includes environmental noise such as secondary speakers in the background or other background noises. This environmental noise often renders the user's speech unintelligible and thus, degrades the quality of the voice communication. Apple wants to change this.