Apple Patents Glasses-Free 3D

The race to produce an effective form of 3D video that doesn’t require glasses is still very much on. But Apple has secured its place on the track.

The company has been awarded a patent in the US on one method which simply requires a special screen. In patent-speak:

A three-dimensional display system provides a projection screen having a predetermined angularly-responsive reflective surface function. Three-dimensional images are respectively modulated in coordination with the predetermined angularly-responsive reflective surface function to define a programmable mirror with a programmable deflection angle.

Put more clearly, the “autostereoscopic” system would involve a screen that isn’t purely flat, but rather features a ripple texture. This would allow two different sets of pixels to be displayed, each of which would only be visible to one eye.

Exactly where on the screen the image is displayed would depend on the viewer’s location, which would be detected automatically by the system. Apple even believes it would be possible to repeat this process so that multiple 3D images could be created on the same display for multiple users.

As well as 3D television, Apple says the system could work for creating pseudo-holograph displays. It says that the relationship between the viewer and the screen means that as somebody walks in an arc, they would see the image “rotate” by a greater degree than their movement. That could even mean it would be possible to make what appeared to be a 360 degree hologram without the technical problems of building a cylindrical screen.

Of course, as many companies have discovered, turning an idea into reality is no easy task. Apple originally applied for the patent in 2006, and hasn’t yet released any products using the system.

Still, if it does ever get used, it won’t necessarily be in a TV or a magic iPad (mmm, ripply touchscreen…) Instead Apple notes it could be used in “medical diagnostics, flight simulation, air traffic control, battlefield simulation, weather diagnostics, entertainment, advertising, education, animation, virtual reality, robotics, biomechanical studies, scientific visualization, and so forth. “