Apple Patent Hints iPhones May Detect Head Gestures, Facial Expressions via Head-Worn Device
Apple patent. (Image credit: USPTO)
Apple is known to bring revolutionary technologies to the world. In quite a few instances throughout the history of not just the company itself, but technology as a whole, Apple has been at the forefront with experimenting with new things, and making them public if they succeed. Most recently, the company has filed a patent that suggests that iPhones might recognise and respond to head gestures if a user is wearing head-wearable device. The US Patent and Trademark Office listing shows the technology as "Monitoring a user of a head-wearable electronic device."
The listing was first spotted by AppleInsider. The patent suggests that Apple is working on a technology that will let iPhone recognise head gesture like nodding or shaking the head via a head-worn device or Apple Glass, as the report suggests. It proposes that light sensors be placed at different points across or over the head-worn device. These sensors are said to detect the changing light patterns in order to recognise head movements and respond accordingly. The patent says that due to the positioning of the sensors, the device can capture movement of anatomical features inside the tissue of the head of the user wearing the said head-worn device (speculated to be Apple Glass). Apple will use the data from the light sensors to detect those movements.
Wearable devices like eyeglasses (e.g., a pair of augmented reality eyeglasses, reading glasses, sunglasses), VR headsets, hat, helmet, headband, or even masks can contain light sensors. Those sensors can further detect the light reflected by and/or transmitted through a portion of the user's head (e.g., using Photoplethysmography ("PPG")). This allows the light sensors to detect head movements, at the most basic. Apple's patent, however says that "the data from the photobodies can help the sensors capture expansion, contraction, and/or any other suitable movement in the tissue of the user during a head gesture." This data will allow the sensors to detect certain movements including, but not limited to chewing, blinking, winking, smiling, eyebrow raising, jaw motioning (e.g., jaw protrusion, jaw retrusion, lateral jaw excursion, jaw depression, jaw elevation, etc.), mouth opening, and/or the like.
The patent filed by Apple runs quite long (approximately 35,000 words) to explain in detail, every combination of facial feature or head gesture that might be possible to detect, along with the different kind of ways light sensors can be used to detect those movements. The patent, however, does not detail much as to how an iPhone or any other device being controlled by head gestured will use the information, or the exact use cases for this technology, but being able to control your phone via a wearable device (possibly Apple Glass) seems like something that could be made possible using such technology.
According to the USPTO listing, Apple has listed the inventors as Joel S Amstrong-Muntner, Nicholas P Allec, and James E Stark.
Apple also uses light sensors for its TrueDepth technology that enables FaceID. FaceID, however, detects a person's face, as against the new technology's ability to detect movements and facial expressions as well.
It is important to note that Apple does not go ahead with all the patents it files for various technologies. Most recently, the company filed a patent for a MagSafe iPhone battery case with an integrated slot for charging the AirPods.