According to Network World, Apple recently obtained several patents and patent applications from Canadian inventor Timothy R. Pryor that cover the touch-based control of machines including appliances, vehicles and computers.
The most interesting of the bunch is one that describes a "method for providing human input to a computer." Originally filed in July 2009, this patent describes a data entry device that responds to multitouch input. The data entry device can be used in a variety of applications including video games, aircraft cockpits, or medical analysis.
Another one, Control of Appliances, Kitchen, and Home, describes a home automation system that's part iPad, part Kinect. It uses both a touch-screen interface and a video-sensing component that can detect your presence and respond to your gestures. Best of all, the system "can ease kitchen and house work, while allowing the user to share time for home functions with Internet shopping, social networking and the like."
Of course, ownership of these patents doesn't mean Apple is going to start making a touchscreen-enabled refrigerator-toaster hybrid anytime soon, but it's still fun to think about the possibilities.