Apple Patent Filing Probably Shows its Rumored ‘Thimble’ Controller
Patently Apple spotted a new Apple patent filing that probably reveals the ‘thimble’ input device for Apple’s upcoming mixed reality headset.
Bloomberg, The Information, and Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo have all reported that Apple is releasing a sleek virtual reality headset in 2022 that will be equipped with color cameras for mixed reality. This will be a standalone virtual reality headset like Facebook’s Oculus Quest but it will be thinner, lighter, have a higher resolution, and will also be more powerful.
The reports released so far about the upcoming headset don’t reveal much about the input mode but The Information report had mentioned that Apple was exploring a “thimble-like device to be worn on a person’s finger”.
A patent application was filed last week and is titled ‘Self-Mixing Interferometry-Based Gesture Input System Including a Wearable or Handheld Device’. The patent describes an input device that includes two finger rings that can “track a user’s finger movements with a reference to any surface” that will include in certain cases, the surface of another finger, the user’s palms, and so forth.
The filing also states that this device may be used in some cases “to provide input to an AR, VR or MR application”.
Some users see the current virtual reality controllers as too complex while hand-tracking on its own does not have any tactile feeling. Besides, holding hands in the air isn’t particularly comfortable. Oculus Quest leverages a thumb-index pinch gesture but this can fail to trigger in case a user’s finger is at the wrong angle or where the lighting in the room isn’t sufficient.
The Apple patent filed last week describes the device as using a technique known as self-mixing interferometry (SMI). The device has several of these SMI sensors and each of them emits a short-range directional laser beam. This beam reflects objects that are nearby back to the laser itself and this apparently interferes with the original light. The changes in the ‘interferometric properties’ of the light are measured by a photodetector.
The device apparently uses this sensor data to determine collisions between fingers or nearby objects and nearby surfaces. This could, potentially, turn any type of surface into a useful space for tactile input.
The patent filing has even cited the example of using the device to detect when a user is holding a stylus and even giving useful information on what’s being drawn.
A patent filing does not necessarily mean that the product will see the light of day and lead to a real usable product. Big tech companies such as Apple generally explore many product and technological approaches but only a few of these ideas see the light of day. However, it is noteworthy that the device in the patent closely resembles the “thimble-like device” that The Information described in its earlier report.