Amazon has shown interest in augmented reality for a while, but on Tuesday the company was awarded a set of patents that reveal its most ambitious visions for the technology yet.
The Seattle tech powerhouse wants to mount projectors and sensors throughout your home in order to create a world where “an entire room is transformed into another reality for the user’s senses,” according to the patents.
If Amazon’s vision comes true, you’ll one day be able to tap anywhere on a wall and have it turn into a television screen. When you sit down to do your homework, virtual objects will be projected onto an empty desk in front of you. And when you read, you’ll be holding a blank page with words beamed down from a nearby lamp.
Certainly, the fact that Amazon has the patents doesn’t mean it plans to make the futuristic vision a reality. But the filings do show Amazon is nowhere near finished trying to invent new devices that will radically change the way we interact with our homes.
The patents, which were first spotted by technology legal firm SmartUp Legal, move beyond the augmented reality devices we’ve seen elsewhere, like Microsoft’s head-mounted HoloLens. So far, the typical approach has been to project images onto a lens in front of the user’s eyes, creating the illusion of 3D holograms all around them.
Amazon, meanwhile, seems to be developing technology that would project the virtual objects directly onto things in the real environment.
It all starts with devices mounted to the user’s ceiling. They’re are equipped with a camera to map the room and a projector to throw images onto any surface.
A second patent, also awarded on Tuesday, describes how the cameras would watch people in the room, use facial recognition to make sure it’s the right user and respond to hand gesture commands.
The room would also be equipped with microphones capable of echolocation. That way the computers could listen for voice or audio commands and know where it’s coming from.
“For example, the user may make a particular noise, such as a tap on a wall or snap of the fingers, which are pre-designed to initiate an augmented reality function,” the patent explains.
A second form of the same technology looks like a lamp that would project images onto a designated area, like a desk. That way, users could sit down and open up virtual forms of things like web browsers, books, video games, recipes and homework assignments, according to the patent.
The final form Amazon’s patents describe is essentially a virtual book. Instead of holding pages, or even a tablet, users would be reading from a “portable projection screen.” It could be something as simple as an “entirely passive, non-electrical, mechanical surface” that just serves as a canvas for the digital images being beamed down.
The inventors listed on the patents all have ties to Amazon’s Lab126, the company’s Silicon Valley-based hardware R&D group.
It’s the same division responsible for building the turmoil-ridden Fire Phone, which used cameras to create a cool 3D affect but was a failure in the marketplace.
Rumor has it Amazon has since pulled back on some of its more farfetched ideas, though this week’s patents seem to suggest the company hasn’t completely left its moonshot ambitions behind.