Apple is working on a smart ring that can detect gestures and track objects held in a user’s hand, according to a leaked patent.
The patent, spotted by Apple Insider, shows a ring that’s designed to connect to other devices and let them know exactly where hands are. While still a patent, it’s exactly the kind of thing that could be put to use with Apple’s VR and mixed reality headset, or the Apple Glasses.
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The patent has the catchy title "Self-Mixing Interferometry-Based Gesture Input System Including a Wearable or Handheld Device" and is broad enough to cover any wearable device. But for the most part, it focuses on the use of this ‘Apple Ring’.
The idea is that the ring includes self-mixing interferometry (SMI) sensors that can be used to detect what your hands are doing.
It does this with “a set of one or more beams of electromagnetic radiation” in different directions, which are then used to paint a digital picture of what’s in the immediate vicinity.
The number of SMI sensors would give the ring further functionality. For instance, one sensor could follow the motion of the ring, and the user’s hand, but two or more could detect a much wider range of motion. Likewise, wearing multiple rings would have a similar effect.
The exact processes are vague, but one example features a user wearing a ring while also using an Apple Pencil. The ring may be able to detect when the stylus is moving, allowing the users to write or draw in the air.
Obviously when it comes to Apple’s fledgling augmented reality efforts, this kind of device could prove invaluable.
The Apple VR and mixed reality headset is tipped to come with around 15 external cameras for various uses, including tracking a user’s arms and fingers. But it’s not clear how accurate that system will be, and a set of wearable rings could make it easier for the headset to figure out what you’re doing.
The Apple Glass AR glasses, which may be too small to include so many cameras and sensors, could also benefit from the new technology if it becomes reality. Unfortunately, the patent doesn’t go into detail as to how other devices could utilize an SMI-based gesture input system — it’s more concerned with how the rings will work.
Patents don’t always make it into production, and there’s no guarantee that these rings will ever be released. But it's another indication that Apple is planning to move further into the VR and augmented reality space.