Apple Patent for Multi-Player AR Gaming Released
Apple appears to be looking into taking multi-player augmented reality (AR) gaming big-time, with a newly-revealed patent application
that aims to create a real-world game space using networked iPhones' GPS, motion sensors and cameras. The patent is broadly-worded, indicating that Apple might be just "squatting" to keep any other developer from patenting it first, but contains enough specific content about calibrating device locations to suggest that there has been some significant AR work underway in Cupertino.
In general, the term augmented reality just means overlaying graphics and information on a real-time view of your actual surroundings. Usually this involves heads-up displays like a fighter pilot would use, but more recently the term has become more general to include technology like the Layar augmented reality browser. The Layar iPhone app
uses the camera to show the location of things around you, such as ATMs, restaurants, houses for sale, hotels and so forth. AR gaming is still in its infancy, largely due to a lack of the ability for players to locate each other and communicate details on the shared virtual game space.
Apple's patent, filed in April 2009, is called "Interactive Gaming with Co-Located, Networked Direction and Location Aware Devices
." It describes a vaguely-defined "interactive game environment" that would include "two or more co-located, networked, direction and location aware interactive game devices." The devices would be able to track and report their own position and orientation relative to "a common geographic reference frame." The patent goes into some detail about the exact method the devices would use to calibrate their location and movement. A game of "laser tag" is used to illustrate how players would be able to use their devices to "tag" each other without needing to project a light beam in the real world. The patent goes on to expand on the concept in various ways, including a method to map real world coordinates to a virtual world, so players who are not even within eyesight of each other can game over a large region.
Apple has been known to stake claims just to prevent anyone else from getting control of a particular technology. Anyone wanting to deploy this kind of gaming environment would likely have to clear it with Apple first, and pay license fees. In fact, the language can be read to to cover any kind of a mobile computer (including smartphone) in this type of interactive gaming. At the same time, the specificity does make it look like there's at least a few people at Apple working pretty seriously on AR.