Patent report: underwater photography, vehicle steering system, curved iPhone

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 may one day release a waterproof iPhone with special features for snapping photos underwater. The company has been granted a patent (number 9,412,183) for a “method for color balancing underwater photography.” 

The patent involves a system and method that receives and edits image data of an underwater scene in a digital image in order to remove undesirable tints from objects in the scene. In some embodiments, colors near the color of the water itself are protected to leave the water looking blue. Removing undesirable tints without removing the tint of the water itself results in images with more realistic coloring of people and objects in the scene, without eliminating the color cues (e.g., blue water) that indicate that the image is a photograph of an underwater scene.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that photographing things underwater usually results in an overall tinted (often bluish or greenish tint) illumination. The amount of light filtered out, and the colors of the light that are filtered out depend on the depth and the contents of the water (e.g., murky, salt, fresh, etc.). Accordingly, objects that are lit by light passing through water appear incorrectly tinted, while the water itself appears correctly tinted (e.g., tinted the color of water). Apple wants to deal with this issue.

Apple has also been granted a patent (number 9,409,599) for a “steering device for an articulated vehicle,” which will only add fuel to the theory that the company is building an Apple Car. 

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “The present invention relates to a steering device comprising a steering member for mutually steering a first vehicle unit and a second vehicle unit of an articulated vehicle which comprises a link mechanism for mutually pivoting said vehicle units, a housing configuration arranged to form a supply space between said vehicle units and a removal mechanism arranged in the supply space, wherein the removal mechanism comprises a heating device arranged to heat air intended to stream through the housing configuration.” 

What’s interesting is that the patent talks of an articulated vehicle. An articulated vehicle has a permanent or semi-permanent pivoting joint in its construction, allowing the vehicle to turn more sharply. There are a variety of articulated vehicles, from heavy equipment to buses, trams and trains. 

Finally, Apple has been granted a patent (number 9.411,451) that hints at a future iPhone with a curved glass design. If/when such a smartphone arrives, it could utilize flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display technology. 

According to the patent, electronic devices may sport flexible displays that are bent to form displays on multiple surfaces of the devices. Bent flexible displays may be bent to form front side displays and edge displays. Edge displays may be separated from front side displays or from other edge displays using patterned housing members, printed or painted masks, or by selectively activating and inactivating display pixels associated with the flexible display. 

Edge displays may alternately function as virtual buttons, virtual switches, or informational displays that are supplemental to front side displays. Virtual buttons may include transparent button members, lenses, haptic feedback components, audio feedback components, or other components for providing feedback to a user when virtual buttons are activated.