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Augmented-reality photoillustration
An augmented-reality shopping app could provide a realistic-looking view of a virtual wristwatch on your smartphone, complete with bling. (GeekWire Photoillustration / Alan Boyle)

It’s no secret that Amazon is intrigued by the potential applications of augmented reality for e-commerce – and one of those applications is explored in a newly published patent.

Imagine that you’re shopping online for a classy watch or bracelet, and you want to get a sense for how it’ll look around your wrist. Just point your smartphone camera at your hand, and an augmented-reality app will show you the item superimposed on the camera video.

But what about the bling? The patent published today, based on an application filed back in 2013, focuses on how to add the sparkle to the virtual image of the bracelet.

The technique calls for using a three-dimensional sensor, such as Microsoft’s Kinect device, to generate a cloud of data points for the real-life object – your hand, for example. The app would keep track of your hand’s position and orientation with respect to the phone, and calculate how the virtual item would reflect light in different ways as you move your hand around.

“The items may include jewelry, eyeglasses, watches, home furnishings, and so forth,” the inventors say in the application. “Users who wish to purchase these physical items may find that the experience of purchasing is enhanced by more realistic presentations of the physical items on devices.”

The data on lighting sources could be collected using the front- and rear-facing cameras on a smartphone. The app would process those readings to tweak the computer-generated view of the sale item, superimposed on the real-world view.

Did you get all that? Here are a couple of illustrations from the patent application to show how it could work. Click on the images for a larger view:

This diagram shows how a smartphone or tablet could blend real-world and virtual imagery, plus lighting data, to produce an augmented-reality view of a wristwatch. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)
Reflection angles
The augmented-reality app would gather information about angles of reflection to create the correct lighting conditions for a virtual view. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Amazon doesn’t typically comment on its patents until it releases a product, and there’s no guarantee that the augmented-reality bling will become one of the Seattle-based online retailer’s sales tools.

However, when you consider the fact that Amazon Web Services has just set up a mixed-reality tech team, and then look at the list of the company’s past patents – including a concept for turning your living room into an AR showroom – you have to conclude that Amazon’s interest in augmented reality is no illusion.

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