The iPhone 12 Pro’s lidar sensor (black circle at the bottom right of the camera unit) expands the possibilities of AR.
Apple is bullish on LIDAR, a brand new technology for the iPhone 12 family, especially the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. (The iPhone 12 Pro is currently on sale, followed by the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Pro Max in the coming weeks.)
If you look closely at one of the new iPhone 12 Pro models or the latest iPad Pro, you’ll see a small black dot near the camera lens that’s about the size of a flash. This is a lidar sensor, a new type of depth detection that can make a difference in many interesting ways.
If Apple is on the road, LIDAR is a term you often hear now, so analyze what we know, what Apple uses it for, and where technology goes next. Let’s try.
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What does LIDAR mean?
Lidar stands for light detection and ranging and has been around for some time. A laser is used to pin off an object, return to the laser’s light source, and measure distance by timing the movement or flight of light pulses.
How does lidar work to sense depth?
Lidar is a type of time-of-flight camera. While some other smartphones measure depth with a single light pulse, smartphones with this type of lidar technology send a wave of light pulses with a spray of infrared dots and measure each with a sensor. You can create a field of points to map the distance to, and you can “mesh” the dimensions of the space and the objects in it. The light pulse is invisible to the human eye, but can be seen with a night-vision camera.
The iPad Pro released in the spring also has LIDAR.
Scott Stein / CNET Isn’t this like Face ID on the iPhone?
However, the range will be longer. The idea is the same. Apple’s Face ID-enabled TrueDepth camera also fires a series of infrared lasers, but only works a few feet away. The rear rider sensor on the iPad Pro and iPhone 12 Pro operates over a range of up to 5 meters.
Lidar is already involved in many other technologies
Lidar is a technology that is sprouting everywhere. It is used for self-driving cars and assisted driving. Used for robotics and drones. Augmented reality headsets like the HoloLens 2 have similar technology, mapping room space before layering 3D virtual objects. But it also has a fairly long history.
Microsoft’s old depth-sensing Xbox accessory, the Kinect, was a camera that also had infrared depth scanning. In fact, PrimeSense, which helped develop Kinect technology, was acquired by Apple in 2013. Currently, there are Apple’s face scan TrueDepth and rear rider camera sensor.
Do you remember Kinect?
Sarah Tew / CNET iPhone 12 Pro camera may work better with lidar
Time-of-flight cameras on smartphones tend to be used to improve focus accuracy and speed, and the iPhone 12 Pro does the same. Apple promises better low-light focus, up to 6x faster in low-light conditions. Lidar depth detection is also used to improve the effectiveness of night portrait modes.
The better focus is a plus, and the iPhone 12 Pro may also add more 3D photo data to the image. That element hasn’t been laid out yet, but Apple’s front-facing, depth-sensitive TrueDepth camera is used in the app in a similar way.
Snapchat has already enabled AR lenses using the iPhone 12 Pro’s lidar.
Snapchat Augmented Reality is also greatly enhanced
Lidar allows you to launch the AR app faster on your iPhone 12 Pro and create fast maps of rooms to add details. Many of Apple’s AR updates on iOS 14 leverage lidar to hide virtual objects behind real objects (called occlusions) and virtual them into more complex room mappings such as tables and chairs. The object is placed.
But there is more potential and the tail is longer. Many companies dream of headsets that blend virtual and real objects. AR glasses that Facebook, Qualcomm, Snapchat, Microsoft, Magic Leapand, and perhaps Apple are working on rely on layering advanced 3D maps of the world. The virtual object above.
These 3D maps are created using special scanners and equipment, much like the version that scans the world of Google Maps. However, it can help people’s own devices eventually crowdsource that information or add on-the-fly data. Again, AR headsets like Magic Leap and HoloLens have already prescanned the environment before stacking things on the environment, and AR technology with Apple’s LIDAR works as well. In that sense, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro are like AR headsets without a headset part, which could eventually pave the way for Apple to make their own glasses.
3D room scan from Occipital’s Canvas app. This is possible with the iPad Pro’s depth detection rider. Expect the same with the iPhone 12 Pro, and maybe more.
Occipital 3D scanning can be a killer app
You can use lidar to mesh 3D objects and rooms and overlay photographic images on top. This is a technique called photogrammetry. It could be the next wave of practical capture techniques such as remodeling, social media and journalism. The ability to capture 3D data and share that information with others could open these lidar-equipped phones and tablets as 3D content capture tools. Lidar can also be used to get measurements of objects and spaces without camera elements.
Do you remember Google Tango? There was also a sense of depth.
Josh Miller / CNET Apple is not the first to explore such technology over the phone
Google had this same idea in mind when Project Tango, an early AR platform that was only available on two phones, was created. Advanced camera arrays also include infrared sensors that allow you to map rooms to create 3D scans and depth maps for AR and indoor space measurements. Google’s Tango-powered phones are short-lived and have been replaced by computer vision algorithms that perform estimated depth detection with a camera without the same hardware. But Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro looks like a much more advanced successor.
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