Apple has applied for a patent (number 11493606) for a “multi-beam scanning system.” It involves 3D images on devices such as Macs, iPads, iPhones, and perhaps an “Apple Car.”

About the patent filing

The patent filing relates generally to optical systems, and particularly to systems and methods for optical scanning and depth mapping. An optical scanning device combines specialized computer hardware and software so Apple’s invention would include software and hardware such as a Mac or iPad. The hardware devices would capture an image and software converts the image to computer-readable data.

A depth map is an image that contains info relating to the distance of surfaces of scene objects from a user’s viewpoint. Depth maps are a representation of the distance from the camera to the subject for each pixel in an image. 

They have various applications, including the familiar smartphone camera function that blurs distant background images when taking a picture and detecting nearby objects for self-driving vehicles. (Apple Car, anyone?)

In the new patent filing, Apple says that existing and emerging consumer applications have created an increasing need for real-time three-dimensional (3D) imagers. These imaging devices, also commonly known as depth sensors or depth mappers, enable the remote measurement of distance (and often intensity) of each point on a target scene—so-called target scene depth—by illuminating the target scene with one or more optical beams and analyzing the reflected optical signal.

Apple thinks that it can improve on the various methods of optical scanning and depth mapping. 

Summary of the patent filing

Here’s Apple’s abstract of the patent filing: “Optical apparatus includes a plurality of emitters arranged in a row and configured to emit respective beams of optical radiation. Projection optics, which are configured to project the beams toward a target, include first cylindrical lenses, which have respective, mutually-parallel first cylinder axes and are aligned respectively with the emitters in the row so as to receive and focus the respective beams in a first dimension, and a second cylindrical lens, which has a second cylinder axis perpendicular to the first cylinder axes and is positioned to receive and focus all of the beams in a second dimension, perpendicular to the first dimension. A scan driver is configured to shift the second cylindrical lens in a direction perpendicular to the second cylinder axis so as to scan the beams across the target.”

Article provided with permission from AppleWorld.Today