Sometimes I really hope Apple comes out with some of the things they file at the US Patent Office. One such example is this crazy cool "integrated sensing display" with mixed pixels and miniature cameras. [warning: patent images best viewed with Safari]
In the patent filing itself, Apple denotes various ways imaging sensors could be embedded into a display, including the example I chose described as follows:
"Integrating image capture devices into the displays can be done with varying degrees of intrusiveness, depending upon the type of display. FIG. 3A depicts an exemplary "track" housing scheme of integrating image elements 305 into a deep encased cell structure display 300 according to one embodiment of the invention. Each image element 305 is integrated into black strips 310, so that the spaces in-between each color cell 315 and 320 are used for both contrast enhancement and image capture."
This display looks as though its final function would be similar to a sort of scanner or large CMOS or CCD, as well as be able to display images. Imagine being able to stick the display of your PDA on a surface and have the image of said surface (which then would be flipped from the mirror effect) displayed right on your screen. Why would this be more interesting than just having a webcam integrated into a laptop? Well for one, you would have a larger sensing field. Secondly a webcam is usually at the top of your screen, making it semi-annoying to carry on a video conversation with someone on the screen.
Some other applications of arrays of cameras include after-the-fact virtual camera motion and time dilation (think Wachowski brothers and technologies invented for the Matrix). I'm not sure this Apple patent will be of a high enough resolution for these applications, but perhaps some inkling of virtual camera ability from the array will be integrated.
I don't know if Apple will ever use this patented technology, but I sure hope they do. Feel free to participate in rumor mongering in the comments.
[via the Mac Observer] [camera array from Stanford via Hack-A-Day Siggraph coverage]