Apple’s smart glasses could feature futuristic projection tech

Apple could one day release a pair of smart glasses that does away with small displays and instead projects images directly onto the wearer’s retina.

The so-called “retinal projector” technology is discussed in an Apple patent granted to the tech giant by the United States Trademark and Patent Office on Tuesday, October 26, Apple Insider reported.

In the document, Apple proposes that the futuristic-sounding technology could help to eradicate eyestrain, headaches, and nausea that some users experience when using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets.

It says that such unpleasant feelings occur “when a VR or AR system effectively confuses the brain of a user by generating scene content that does not match the depth expected by the brain based on the stereo convergence of the two eyes of the user,” a problem known as “accommodation-convergence mismatch.”

The document explains: “For example, in a stereoscopic system the images displayed to the user may trick the eye(s) into focusing at a far distance while an image is physically being displayed at a closer distance. In other words, the eyes may be attempting to focus on a different image plane or focal depth compared to the focal depth of the projected image, thereby leading to eyestrain and/or increasing mental stress. Accommodation-convergence mismatch problems are undesirable and may distract users or otherwise detract from their enjoyment and endurance levels (i.e., tolerance) of virtual reality or augmented reality.”

Apple says in the patent that the technology would also need to include a “gaze tracking system” that “tracks the position of the user’s pupil and automatically adjusts projection of a scanned light field” so that the projected image lands on the retina in a way that ensures a consistent and reliable image.

The company’s proposed retinal projector technology would also pave the way for a lighter and more comfortable headset design by doing away with conventional VR/AR displays, which are larger and heavier.

Apple is rumored to be developing both a pair of smart glasses and an AR/VR headset that some commentators believe could be unveiled in the next year or two, but there’s no indication that either of the products will feature the technology discussed in the patent.

Indeed, as with many ideas described in such documents, there’s no guarantee that Apple’s retinal projector will ever become a reality, though the mere existence of the document does offer some interesting insight into the kind of ideas that the company is exploring when it comes to technology related to smart glasses and high-tech headsets.

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