Apple has applied for a second patent (number 9,898,074; the first was number 20170205873) for a “scanning depth engine.” If the invention ever comes to fruition, a Mac could generate a 3D profile of an object by processing an optical image of the object.
Think of it as a sort of photocopier for 3-D objects. Also, it’s like a portable Kinect device that would allow users to interact with games or exercise videos played on a Mac — or perhaps an Apple TV.
This sort of 3D profile is also referred to as a 3D map, depth map or depth image, and 3D mapping is also referred to as depth mapping. Depth maps can be used in interactive gaming, creating shadows cast by illumination in 3D computer graphics, adding realism by simulating the semi-transparent properties of translucent materials such as human skin, and much more.
Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “Mapping apparatus includes a transmitter, which emits a beam comprising pulses of light, and a scanner, which is configured to scan the beam, within a predefined scan range, over a scene. A receiver receives the light reflected from the scene and to generate an output indicative of a time of flight of the pulses to and from points in the scene. A processor is coupled to control the scanner so as to cause the beam to scan over a selected window within the scan range and to process the output of the receiver so as to generate a 3D map of a part of the scene that is within the selected window.”
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.