Silicon Valley tech giant Apple jumped headfirst into the virtual reality field over the last two years, when it hired a top VR researcher in 2016 and acquired some small startups in 2015, including augmented reality and computer vision company Metaio. More recently, Apple has been looking into augmented reality applications, though the company is keeping mum, as usual, about its plans. Thankfully, Patently Apple is around to keep us updated about what’s going on with the company’s many patent applications. Earlier this summer, Patently Apple, which celebrates the company’s spirit of innovation by presenting summaries of granted patents, posted a patent application report, titled “Apple Patent Reveals the Exciting Possibility of Augmented Reality Smartglasses,” that came from the minds at Metaio. This week, Patently Apple announced that the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted the company another Metaio patent for a future 3D printer that can work with AR and AR glasses.
The abstract for the patent reads, “A method for instructing a 3D printing system that includes a 3D printer provided with a printing coordinate system to print at least one first object onto an existing second object comprises providing or receiving at least one image representing at least a part of the existing second object, determining or receiving an alignment between at least part of the at least one first object and at least part of the existing second object, determining a pose of the existing second object relative to the printing coordinate system according to the at least one image, and providing the 3D printing system with the pose and the alignment for the 3D printer to print at least part of the at least one first object onto the existing second object according to the pose and the alignment.”
According to Apple, 3D printers need further applications, like extending real, existing objects by 3D printing other objects onto the surface of the existing object. The difficulty lies in where the existing object should be placed, or how to adjust print heads so that the other objects will be printed onto a certain area of the existing object’s surface, “in order to build a composed object satisfying a pre-determined alignment between the additional objects and the existing object.”
The new Metaio/Apple patent 9,776,364, which was filed back in Q3 2013 by Metaio, covers the invention, which relates to a new technique for instructing a 3D printing system that’s made up of a 3D printer; additionally, the disclosure is about an instruction method for getting a device to communicate with a 3D printing system that is, again, comprising a 3D printer…is your head spinning yet? Apple says that no other art exists that can solve the issue of 3D printing at least one object onto a specific surface area of an existing object, or a part of the existing object, so that a composed object can be built to accomplish a “pre-determined alignment” between the existing object and at least one other object.
Patently Apple writes, “Therefore, it is an object of this invention to provide a method for instructing a 3D printing system comprising a 3D printer which is adapted to print at least one object onto a desired surface area of an existing object or a part of the existing object in order to build a composed object satisfying a pre-determined alignment between the at least one object to be printed and the existing object. A further object of the invention is to provide a corresponding 3D printing system.”
A virtual model of an object can be used to 3D print a real, tangible version of the object. However, the object’s surface texture, which depends on the printing materials used, obviously can’t be modified or changed once the object has been printed. So this opens up a potential need to visually augment an object’s surface texture, without having to print an additional object with different materials. In this situation, AR can be used to visually modify or augment the 3D printed object by offering an AR visualization of overlaying computer-generated imagery with a view of the complete, 3D printed object, or at least a part of it. This virtual information could be any kind of data, like videos, drawings, or textures, that’s able to be perceived visually. Then, the view of the object “could be perceived as visual impressions by user’s eyes and/or be acquired as an image by a camera.”
Users can utilize the optical see-through display of semi-transparent glasses to see the overlaid information of both the existing object and the computer-generated image. Then, the user is able to see through the glasses the real object, augmented with the image. Users can also view this overlay in a video see-through display with a camera and a “normal display device.”
This works by using the camera to capture an image of the real object, then showing the overlay to users through the display. In addition, a projector can also be used in this situation, by projecting the computer-generated image onto the existing object to see the overlay. You can also get the AR visualization through a mobile device with a camera – the camera can capture an image of the object, or part of the object. Semi-transparent glasses can also be combined with the mobile device for an optical see-through.
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