Apple files a patent for ‘flexible room controls’ regarding HomeKit

Apple has filed for a patent (number 9,772,720) for “flexible room controls” that shows the company has big plans for its HomeKit technology. HomeKit is a framework that allows control of compatible home automation devices through iOS and Siri.

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 subsequently 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. 

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Obviously, that’s inelegant. Apple thinks it has a better way.

Here’s Apple’s summary of the patent: “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.”

Of course, 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.