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Apple just dropped a big clue about its first AR project

Published Nov 8th, 2016 6:03PM EST
iPhone AR Apple Maps
Image: Jonathan Geller, BGR

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Niantic’s Pokemon Go mobile game is the easiest augmented reality experience that you can try to understand what the whole AR fuss is about. You basically have a digital layer that’s projected on top of your surroundings, as seen through your phone’s camera. The digital information on the screen changes depending on where you are. And this type of technology has great potential, far beyond what a mobile game can offer.

Apple is one of the companies that’s expected to release various AR projects in the future. Tim Cook has often hinted that AR is going to be big for the company, even though the CEO never made any announcements. The first AR app coming out of Apple HQ may be a redesigned Apple Maps application that uses AR to display location information on top of the real-world.

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Found by Apple Insider, USPTO Patent No. 9,488,488 has a straightforward title: Augmented reality maps. The title proves that Apple is not only working on AR iOS software already but that such a feature might come to market at some in the immediate future.

Apple was granted the patent on Tuesday, which is impressive from a different point of view: Google must also be working on similar Google Maps tech, which it’ll probably want to protect with patents.

Interestingly, Apple filed for the patent all the way back in mid-February 2010, at a time when iPhone technology was nowhere near ready to offer the great AR experience Apple must envision.

The technology needed to power an AR maps experience is very complex, and it has to all happen under the hood without the user ever noticing it. The patent’s abstract does a great job explaining the sophistication behind it.

“A user points a handheld communication device to capture and display a real-time video stream,” Apple writes. “The handheld communication device detects geographic position, camera direction, and tilt of the image capture device.”

”The user sends a search request to a server for nearby points of interest. The handheld communication device receives search results based on the search request, geographic position, camera direction, and tilt of the handheld communication device. The handheld communication device visually augments the captured video stream with data related to each point of interest. The user then selects a point of interest to visit. The handheld communication device visually augments the captured video stream with a directional map to a selected point of interest in response to the user input.”

“Apple has 600 engineers and revealed a patent this morning. It’s been working mixed reality for 5 years,” Robert Scoble said at Web Summit in Lisbon.

Those 600 engineers are likely working on several other AR projects, which are yet to be unveiled.

With Apple patents, we usually tell you that the tech Apple is describing might not be used in commercial products, as the company explores all sorts of products. But the AR maps patent isn’t one of them. It’s very likely that AR is coming to maps experiences, and Apple won’t want to miss out on it.

Images from the patent exemplify Apple’s AR maps concept and may foreshadow our future mobile maps experience.

iphone-augmented-reality-maps-2 iphone-augmented-reality-maps-1

iphone-augmented-reality-maps-3Image source: USPTO

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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