iPhone 8 Could Use Lasers for Augmented Reality and Autofocus

Apple introduced ARKit in iOS 11 during WWDC, and developers have already had some fun playing with it. The system uses the iPhone’s and iPad’s motion sensors in combination with the camera to figure out what the device is “looking” at and overlay information or fun photos, videos, or games over the actual setting. In the future, such technology could help doctors perform complex surgeries, your mechanic diagnose and fix your car (or perhaps you can do it yourself!), give you directions to your job interview, even through the building, and more. It’s data, information, and games overlaid over the real world around you. Since Apple hasn’t introduced any glasses (yet), it’s confined to your phone right now, and our phones are surprisingly ill equipped for this. Apple’s been able to get by nicely with current technologies thanks to clever software, but for more advanced augmented reality, Apple’s going to have to improve the sensor tech on iPhones and iPads. This will likely include multiple rear facing cameras (which they’ve already done on one device), as well as an array of distance measuring lasers that can better “scan” your surroundings. 

Apparently, the iPhone 8 may come with these improvements already.

We’ve previously heard that the iPhone 8 would pack 3D sensors on the front of the device for facial tracking and scanning as well as 3D selfies. Fast Company is now reporting that they have a source who claims there will also be a laser system on the back of the device for augmented reality and autofocus. 

Right now, the iPhone camera is quick with autofocus because it uses dedicated focus pixels and phase detection, but it could me much faster if Apple added lasers, as some other manufacturers have done. In combination with other autofocusing techniques, laser could improve low light autofocus on the iPhone, as well as autofocus when the subjects or backgrounds of photos are in motion. 

While autofocus improvements would be a benefit of a laser system, it surely wouldn’t be the only benefit, or even the greatest benefit. The phase detection autofocus used by Apple in the iPhone 7 is already fantastic, and can only be improved by so much. The real focus of such a sensor would be accurate distance detections to use with ARKit for better augmented reality. A laser could give far more accurate distance measurements, and, along with the movement of the person holding the device, allow Apple to track objects in real time across a scene more accurately than they could using the camera alone. Your brain needs two eyes to properly judge depth, and your phone is no different. Still, with only our eyes, we can’t precisely determine the distance to any object we’re looking at. Sure, we can reach out and grab something, but, staring at an object that’s 5.725 meters away, we can’t tell someone exactly how far away that object is. Dual camera phones are a little better at it, but laser sensors could give our phones, and by extension, us, superpowers. Sure, measuring precise distances is a pretty lame superpower, but it’s still going to be something we’ll find very useful in a few years, maybe even something we can’t remember living without.

Tim Cook has stated on multiple occasions that augmented reality would be important for Apple’s future. The new rumored camera setup on the iPhone 8 makes it more likely to be used for augmented reality while in landscape orientation, perfect for viewers like Daydream or Google Cardboard. It seems clear Apple’s building a better AR platform, and could one day incorporate it into a wearable device, such as glasses or one day contacts that could blur the line between humans and our technology further. Our devices already augment our abilities as humans, giving us incredible abilities, like communicating over text over thousands of miles, tracking our health, or looking up unknown information. Augmented reality will likely be the next wave of technological evolution that dramatically improves our everyday lives, and new sensors on the iPhone in combination with ARKit is a huge first step. 

Source: Killian Bell, Cult of Mac: “iPhone 8 will pack lasers for improved AR and autofocus.

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