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Apple Patent Reveals Mixed Reality Headset With Face Tracking

(Image credit: Apple/USPTO)

Apple has filed a patent for a new mixed reality (MR) headset that could be different from other products on the market. As reported by Variety, the new device includes sensors that can track users' eyes, facial features and hands. The patent was originally filed in March 2019 but published earlier this month.

It's the latest to join Apple's ever-growing list of mixed and augmented reality (AR) patents, all in an apparent bid to take the tech from simple phone applications and smart glasses to Apple-branded wearables, like headsets. The "Display System Having Sensors" patent includes a litany of different components, including eye-tracking sensors, cameras and environment-tracking sensors, that work in tandem to create a virtual image of the real world.

The patent also notes additional applications of the headset and things it could potentially do, including the utilization of "head pose sensors," "eyebrow sensors" and "lower jaw sensors" to help read the entirety of a person's face and hand tracking. Detailed lighting sensors could also be implemented in a similar setup.

All of this culminates in a unique vision that could allow Apple to project an image of the real world through the headset, instead of overlaying information on top of – such as Microsoft's HoloLens. One version of the headset includes cameras meant to capture a direct video feed, which the headset could use to create composite objects meant to be seen on a virtual reality (VR) display.

Of course, Apple hasn't confirmed what it'd use this tech for or if any such products will ever come into fruition at all. In fact, the vendor has yet to announce anything in the AR or VR department. But given that Facebook is working to create VR headsets with built-in facial tracking for communication via virtual avatars, it would make sense for Apple to look to follow suit or beat the social media giant to the punch. Apple has plenty of ways it could employ the tech, especially with its Animoji and Memoji avatars that people can already use to create voice messages and expressions that mimic their own.

On July 11, however, DigiTimes reported that Apple isn't actively developing these products any longer. Apple hasn't given any statement on the matter, so we don't have any sort of official word to go by. But with these types of intriguing patents continuously rising to the surface, it's hard not to wonder exactly what's going on over there in terms of XR.