Apple patents laser based head mounted display

The biggest problem watching movies on your iPhone? Of course, it’s the display size.

The quality of video processing quality on the iPhone is pretty good already, and, thank’s to the Moore’s law, will get much better in time, including the capabilities to view full HD movies in time. Storage? Give a few years and you’ll be carrying hundreds of gigabytes of media files in your iPhone 3.0. Sound quality? The headphone’s are getting better and better each day, and Dolby labs do not sit idle with advanced audio processing techniques.

But that small 3.2″ touchscreen display? Well, it might be good for watching a movie while on the road. But that’s certainly no HD experience. And there’s no good way around this problem, especially where the portability of the device is concerned. Or is there?

Well, if this Apple’s patent application ever becomes a real product, there actually may be: A laser based head mounted display for your iPod and iPhone.

The idea of head mounted displays is actually nothing new. There are already quite a few of them on the market. But they are all pretty bulky/clumsy devices, wearing which is certainly not a seamless experience.

But Apple has a way around that too.

Most of the bulk in the device comes from the light source and all the optical elements that are necessary to generate and display video image.

And here comes the Apple’s idea – you actually don’t need all of these things sitting on your head mounted display. Put all image generation electronics, the laser engine and other optics into a compact battery powered box, that can be clipped to the users belt. Transmit laser generated video to the headset display via optical cable. And then use ultra thin wedge optics, like those developed by Cambridge FPD, to display this image in front of the user eyes.

The optical display element can already be made no more then 2 mm thin, and the whole set-up that sits on your head could be no bigger then you standard horn rimmed glasses. When they do not get any images fed, the optical display elements can also be made fully transparent. Then you can go around walking with what looks like an ordinary glasses, and enjoy full HD video experience when you sit on that long cross-country flight. And if you are wearing glasses anyway, you may not notice any difference at all, since wedge optics elements can be made a part of them.

But I don’t have to go into all the details. Apple spells all of this out itself, in a patent application:

In accordance with one embodiment, the remote laser engine is a portable unit that can be carried by the user. In some cases, it may even be a highly compact handheld unit. In fact, it may include a strap, clip or other attachment means for coupling to the user or an article of clothing thereby making it easily transportable. The user simply wears the head mounted display apparatus that includes the imaging device and displays elements and on their head, and attaches the laser engine to their person thereby keeping their hands free to do other tasks. In the case where the display element(s) formed from transparent optical elements, the user can further be mobile when images aren’t being displayed, i.e., the user can see through the display unit similar to traditional eye glasses. Furthermore, in cases where the laser engine is powered by a battery rather than a power cable the user is free to move anywhere they like thereby making the laser engine even more portable.

In one example of this embodiment, a user simply plugs their handheld video player such as the iPod manufactured by Apple Computer of Cupertino, Calif., into the compact laser engine attached to their belt, and places the headset on their head. The user then selects a video to be played at the handheld video player (viewing through transparent display elements). Once selected, the handheld video player generates a video signal which is processed into synchronized light control signals and image control signals for use by the laser engine and imaging device. In essence, the laser engine and imaging device work together to create dual video images in accordance with the video signal being outputted by the handheld video player. Furthermore, the display unit receives the dual video images from the imaging device and presents them for viewing. When video is not being played, no images are being created and thus the display unit act just like glasses. In fact, the head set may further include optical components that are based on the user’ eyesight so they can see normally when the system is not operating. Thus, the user is able to select other video for playing without taking off the head gear. If the laser engine further includes a battery, the user can be very mobile while utilizing and wearing the system (e.g., not limited to the length of a power cord).

Apple also has some more patent applications related to head mounted displays, covering such things like treating of peripheral areas of the HMD’s to enhance the overall comfort, or better image display and generation techniques.

Looks like an interesting idea all around. We should see whether something will come off it in the next few years.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • Patents

    Thanks for the info.. do you have any links as for the details of this patent (by Apple)?

  • Staska

    The link to the patent appliction is the post text. (Second line above first

  • Seyi

    Hi, I am searching for mini see-through lens to put on a pair of AR goggles for a school research project.
    Do you have any ideas where I can find one?

  • Seyi

    Hi, I am searching for mini see-through lens to put on a pair of AR goggles for a school research project.
    Do you have any ideas where I can find one?