Following several days of rumours – and months of negotiation – Apple confirmed the purchase on Monday of the 3-D sensing company PrimeSense. According to All Things D, PrimeSense sold for $360 million. Apple representative Kristin Huguet responded in the face of the news leak that Apple generally does not elaborate on its plans and purposes when it acquires new technology. Industry commentators have been speculating widely this week on the possibly profound implications of Apple’s move.
What are 3-D sensors and how might they pop up in iGadgets?
PrimeSense, a semiconductor company, became widely recognized for 3-D sensor technology when its sensors were incorporated into the Xbox in Kinect gaming. Its motion detectors observed game players by modelling their skeletal structures in space. The original sensor used in Kinect, however, was stationary and large, especially compared to the smaller sensors (reduced to a chip) that the company has developed more recently for smaller devices (think mobile). In addition to detecting motion, the sensors can detect colour and depth.
Hypothetical uses for these sensors in Apple products include smart watches, 3-D cameras, and interactive televisions. PrimeSense vice-president of marketing Tal Dagan told Forbes a few weeks ago that consumers could expect to see an Apple tablet or phone with 3-D features in 2014. Wearable products may be developed, surmised Forbes contributor J.P. Gownder, which will help blind people cross streets safely.
On the personal scale, smartphone owners may be able to make 3-D scans of buildings, their kitchens, or their pets. This could provoke a wave of 3-D sensing innovations, in which household digital devices (home-monitoring systems, cars) are enhanced with the ability to “see” rather than respond to flat images.
Sensors in doorway devices might alert us in the not-too-distant future when we are to answer the door, and when not. Apple developers may already be working on a variety of such applications for Jetson-style homes.
The coming year might usher in Apple phones that can snap images of defunct products, instantly calculating their dimensions. Imagine an iPhone that recommends – on inspection of the old kitchen table with the broken leg – a new table that fits the space perfectly in colours that match the décor.