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Apple’s latest patents hint at 3D camera tech that could power the next iPhone

Why it matters to you

Apple’s latest advances in 3D imaging could make their way to your next iPhone, unlocking a world of possibilities in facial recognition, augmented reality, and photography.

With a wide range of applications from augmented reality to gesture tracking, photography, and even mapping, 3D-scanning technology is truly one of the next great innovations in the world of digital imaging. A team of Apple researchers in Israel, formerly known as PrimeSense and responsible for developing Microsoft’s Kinect gaming platform, has just filed a patent for a depth-sensing device that appears to be intended for the company’s mapping vans, but also holds far-reaching implications for consumer devices like the upcoming iPhone 8.

The patent filing, reported on by blog Patently Apple, depicts a compact “multi-mirror scanning depth engine” that determines the distance of objects in an environment based on the amount of time light reflecting off those objects takes to reach a sensor. This particular array would most likely be used as part of a light imaging, detection, and ranging device — more commonly known as laser or 3D scanners — that are standard in the geographic mapping industry.

More: Apple iPhone 8 rumors and news

As Apple continues to invest in talent to beef up its own mapping service, it’s not surprising the company might experiment with its latest discoveries in the field before condensing that technology into a smartphone after its been thoroughly battle-tested. Early last year, Apple acquired Emotient, a startup that used artificial intelligence to improve facial recognition. The upcoming iPhone 8 — which may actually be called the iPhone X, according to the latest rumors — has been tipped to include a 3D-sensing camera, where facial recognition is expected to be one of the major applications.

A depth-sensing camera offers clear benefits for iPhone photography as well. One of the iPhone 7 Plus’ most notable and well-received features is its dual-camera system, which combines the standard wide-angle lens on the regular iPhone 7 with an additional telephoto lens to enable optical zoom and deliver stunning depth effects. Bolstered by Apple’s advancements in 3D-scanning hardware, the upcoming flagship iPhone’s camera could be more powerful and versatile than ever before.

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