Apple wins patent on Kinect-like depth mapping technology for 3D gesture interfaces

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Apple has been awarded a patent for a depth-mapping technology for a Kinect-like 3D gesture interface, adding to the intellectual property inherited from its acquisition of Israeli firm PrimeSense in 2013.

Using a combination of cameras and software, the technology would identify major features of the human body, such as the hand, and judge their relative positions in space. An image in the patent depicts a sensor bar sitting on top of computer monitor.

Unlike the Kinect, though, the Apple concept granted by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday is oriented specifically towards identifying hand and finger gestures, rather than whole-body movements. The patent complements another one issued earlier this month which dealt directly with analyzing hand gestures.

The patents and the acquisition of PrimeSense may suggest that Apple is exploring 3D gesture interfaces for Macs, and possibly other products, such as the Apple TV. An overhauled Apple TV is expected to be announced at WWDC 2015 in June.

To date, though, such interfaces have not had much success. The Kinect has been unbundled from Microsoft's latest console, the Xbox One, and third-party controllers such as the TrackIR and the Leap Motion Controller have remained niche products. Apple's native gesture options for Macs currently include the 2D, touch-based Magic Trackpad and Magic Mouse, as well as the trackpads on MacBooks.

PrimeSense helped create the technology behind the Kinect — which originally debuted for the Xbox 360 — by licensing its designs to Microsoft. Apple's takeover of PrimeSense was confirmed on November 24, 2013, just two days after the Xbox One shipped.