Apple acquires Kinect sensor maker, patents removable Lytro-like adapter


posted Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 1:38 PM EDT


In the past couple of days, some interesting news has come to light that could spell big changes for Apple in terms of interaction and photography — or could end up just being more purchases and patents for the company to add to its arsenal.

Recently, Apple confirmed that it purchased Israeli company PrimeSense, best known as the company behind the original Kinect sensors for the XBox 360. While Microsoft has switched to home-grown sensors, PrimeSense was the company who originated the combination of cameras and depth sensors that allowed for accurate motion tracking, and all manner of bizarre hacks. Since then, PrimeSense has developed smaller models, which could potentially be used for mobile devices. Some have proposed that Apple's purchase could mean an interaction system for an Apple Television, but could potentially be used in other situations. On a photographic front, using depth sensors could allow for the creation of 3D images, for differing focusing mechanisms, or even for more accurate flash use, as the strength of the light could be modulated by your distance from the subject.

Meanwhile, Apple has also just received a patent for another photographic piece of technology — a plenoptic focusing system, like that found in the Lytro. As with the Lytro, and other plenoptic examples, the patent would use a microlens array to split a scene into information that can be then refocused. However, the innovation in Apple's patent is that there would be a microlens array adapter that sits between lens and sensor, which could be removed to take normal photographs. If used, it would mean that the plenoptic effect could be enabled or disabled at will.

Now, there's no proof that Apple will actually use any of this. The company famously acquired Liquidmetal years ago, and that has yet to yield any obvious results.