Before long, you might be able to point your iPhone or other device at an object and call up an overlay of information.
Awarded to Apple today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a patent dubbed "Synchronized, interactive augmented reality displays for multifunction devices" highlights an augmented-reality system that would capture a live video feed of a real object to display on a portable device. The technology would then overlay information about that object on the device.
In one example cited in the patent, a user could point the camera of a portable device at a computer circuit board. The live video feed would display images of the board overlaid with annotations describing its various parts. Those annotations could include information from a local or network database, an online library, or a Web site.
The system sounds similar to other AR inventions, such as Google Glass and Nokia's City Lens. But Apple's patent takes the technology a few steps further.
The AR display would be interactive. You could create your own annotations by writing or drawing them on your portable device. You could even share those annotations with other people as a virtual way of collaborating on the same information.
The technology could also split the screen on your portable device, displaying the live video plus the information in one half and computer-generated images plus the information in the other half. Your display could even be shared with another person. That option might be handy if you were trying to give someone directions or point out areas of interest in a public location.
As the patent describes it:
A device can receive live video of a real-world, physical environment on a touch sensitive surface. One or more objects can be identified in the live video. An information layer can be generated related to the objects. In some implementations, the information layer can include annotations made by a user through the touch sensitive surface. The information layer and live video can be combined in a display of the device.
The technology seems suited for a mobile phone while the user is on the go. But the patent mentions other potentially AR-capable devices, including PCs, tablets, game consoles, and media players. A touch-sensitive phone or tablet would come into play if you wanted to create your own annotations for the object being viewed.
A patent award doesn't necessarily mean the invention will see the light of day. But with companies like Google and Nokia already tapping in to augmented reality, Apple may not be too far behind.