Apple wants to remove your skeleton (well, from a scanned 3D profile)

Yesterday, I reported that Apple had filed for a second patent for a “scanning depth engine” that generates 3D profiles. The tech giant has also been granted a patent (number 9,898,651) for “upper body skeleton extraction from depth maps,” which would facilitate gesture controls on a Mac or an Apple TV.

A "depth map" refers to a representation of a scene as a two-dimensional matrix of pixels. They can be processed in order to segment and identify objects in the scene. Identification of humanoid forms (meaning 3D shapes whose structure resembles that of a human being) in a depth map, and changes in these forms from scene to scene, can be used as a means for controlling computer applications. 

Skeleton patent.jpeg

An example would be a computer-implemented method in which a depth map is segmented so as to find a contour of a humanoid body. The contour is processed in order to identify a torso and one or more limbs of the body. An input is generated to control an app running on a computer by analyzing a disposition of at least one of the identified limbs in the depth map. 

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “A method for processing data includes receiving a depth map of a scene containing at least an upper body of a humanoid form. The depth map is processed so as to identify a head and at least one arm of the humanoid form in the depth map. Based on the identified head and at least one arm, and without reference to a lower body of the humanoid form, an upper-body pose, including at least three-dimensional (3D) coordinates of shoulder joints of the humanoid form, is extracted from the depth map.”

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.