updated 07:30 pm EST, Wed November 23, 2011
Could pave the way for Kinect-like abilities
The USPTO has awarded Apple a patent on 3D object-recognition technology that goes well beyond the current face recognition already included in apps such as iPhoto and the iOS 5 camera application, allowing a device to "build" a 3D face or object by analyzing the curves, contours and shadows of a 2D image. Such technology would give Kinect-like detection and recognition capabilities to cameras such as those found in iOS and Mac devices.
The technique could be used, for example, to create biometric logins that only unlocked the device when the owner was identified (though as with other such techniques, keeping the device able to distinguish the actual owner versus a picture of the owner would be the key to real security). It could also be used to automatically take and upload timed pictures of users who were not the owner, or lock out machines when the owner's face was not detected. Apple mentions also being able to identify persons who are not aware that they are being recognized.
Beyond security considerations, being able to show an object to a device -- say an iPad -- and have it identify that and build a matching 3D model could have numerous uses, ranging from faster 3D image generation to treasure-hunt games. Settings on a device or an account could automatically be changed when a different identified user (such as a child) is in front of the system. The patent also speaks of using the technology to construct 3D models of 2D x-rays, implying possible medical uses.
The patent was originally filed in 2005 and lists former Polar Rose owner Jan Eric Solem as one of the inventors. Apple acquired Polar Rose in 2010 and is using its technology in the iOS 5 camera's ability to recognize and track faces, so the "new" patent could actually be a re-assignment from Polar Rose's portfolio to Apple. The patent, number 8,064,685, also lists Professor Kahl Fredrik as the main inventor.