Apple has been granted a patent (number 10,871,820) for a “self-mixing 2D/2D user input detection, scanning laser system.” If its ideas ever reach fruition, Macs, iPads, iPhones, and other future devices such as projectors from the company could allow user input based on a built-in scanning system.
Current input devices include buttons, keyboards, touch screens, and the like which often involve the user making physical contact with the input device, such as with a finger, stylus, or other user input object. Apple says that such input devices are often integrated components of the electronic devices, and so add weight, size, and power consumption to the electronic devices.
The tech giant adds that, furthermore, such input devices typically only allow for detecting a press, or motion of a touch, in two dimensions on the device. They typically don’t allow for detecting distance or gestures of the finger, stylus, or other input object toward or away from the device. Apple wants said devices to not only offer gesture control (something for which it has filed multiple patent applications), but even to tell how far away a user is from a device and respond accordingly.
Here’s the (somewhat technical) summary of the invention: “Disclosed herein are electronic devices, and methods for their operation, that identify user inputs based on interaction of an object with input surfaces separate from the electronic devices. The electronic devices may include one or more self-mixing interferometry sensors that scan a field of view containing the input surface with a light beam, such as a laser beam emitted laser diode.
“Self-mixing of the emitted light with reflections can generate a self-mixing interferometry signal. Analysis of the self-mixing interferometry signal can allow for identification of an object, such as a user’s finger, in the field of view. Deformation of the finger can be detected with the self-mixing interferometry sensor, and a user input identified therefrom.”