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Devices like the rumored Apple Glass or an Apple-designed VR headset may take an entirely wireless approach when used indoors, by using a relay dock to extend the range of communications to multiple users within a room.
One of the problems that augmented reality and virtual reality systems have at present is a need to be close to a system that is performing the bulk of processing. The mass of data from sensors on a headset has to be fed into a computing device, which then has to interpret it and apply the data to rendering a virtual scene or object, then that video data has to be passed to a display system to be seen by the user.
Compact VR systems such as Google Cardboard and the Oculus Go get around this by bringing all of the processing onto the headset itself, in a self-contained system. However, doing this can increase the amount of weight the user has to manage on their head.
Earlier VR systems and kits such as the Magic Leap One rely on tethering the headset to a separate processing unit. While this can take the form of a small pocket-sized unit, desktop computers are usually employed for improved graphical processing.
While this can improve the visual processing of the overall system, as well as reducing headset weight, the byproduct is the existence of cables that can be tripped over or otherwise restrict movement.
In a patent granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday titled "Relay dock and base station with position information based directional wave forming," Apple suggests the creation of a cable-free headset that carries a battery pack for power, but with data instead handled by wireless communications.
In essence, the system would rely on a relay dock in the center of an area to be used for VR or AR purposes, which is, again, wirelessly connected to a base station in another position. It may be feasible in permanent setups that the base station and relay dock could be connected via a cable, but the main thrust of the patent is about the communications between the relay dock and headsets.
For systems with multiple relay docks in an area, such as larger rooms or warehouses, the base station would connect to the nearest relay dock between it and the target user. It would also be feasible to allow one dock to handle inbound communications from the user, while another relay dock transmits data, such as in cases where the signal sent to the user may be blocked by environmental scenery.
Using a combination of sensors on the headset, such as a camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, camera, and an infrared sensor, the dock uses the data to determine the position of the user's headset in relation to it. The dock may also have infrared sensors, which could use infrared markers on the headset to help work out the user's position more accurately.
Knowing where the user is positioned, as well as their general movements, can allow the dock to use a beamforming engine to send an amplified signal in a specific direction. The beamforming can minimize the amount of power required to broadcast the signal to the user, as well as making the signal more private through directionality.
In the case of multiple users, beamforming would help by reducing the potential for interference, as it wouldn't necessarily broadcast in a direction of another user, keeping the airways clear and aiding reception of other signals.
The filing lists its inventors as Yi Jiang, Mattia Pascolini, Jiangfeng Wu, Siwen Yong, and Lijun Zhang. It was originally filed on September 19, 2018.
Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis. While the existence of a filing indicates areas of interest for Apple's research and development efforts, they do not guarantee the ideas will appear in a future product or service.
Apple has been keen to perfect the VR or AR headset for some time, but there have been relatively few filings relating to communications and portability. For example, it has repeatedly suggested inserting an iPhone into a headset for use as a small self-contained VR system. The use of batteries have also been improved upon, with Apple suggesting in one filing to use wireless charging on the headset to save from needing users to change battery units at all.