What does the iPad Pro LiDAR scanner mean for Augmented reality?

The iPad Pro 2020 comes with an important addition, a LiDAR sensor – the iPad Pro now has a laser on the back. This is yet another example of Apple leading with hardware knowing that apps will be developed in order to take full advantage. Being the first Apple product to be equipped with LiDAR, it is exciting for anyone interested in augmented reality (AR).

LiDAR

LiDAR was a portmanteau of light and radar and is a way of measuring distances by illuminating an item with a laser and measuring the reflected light with a sensor. Exciting applications include using it in the control and navigation for some autonomous cars, mapping the seabed and it was even used during the Apollo program, with mirrors being placed on the Moon. In robotics, it has been used for the perception of the environment as well as object classification through three-dimensional imagery for terrain, distance precision and approach velocity calculation. This function of LiDAR makes it ideal for landing robotic vehicles on unknown terrain (like another planet) but you might need more than an iPad to do that.

What Apple says:

The custom-designed LiDAR scanner uses direct time of flight to measure reflected light from up to five meters away, both indoors and out. It works at the photon level, operates at nanosecond speeds, and opens up tremendous possibilities for augmented reality and beyond.

The LiDAR scanner works with the pro cameras, motion sensors and frameworks in iPadOS to measure depth. This combination of hardware, software and unprecedent­ed innovation makes iPad Pro the world’s best device for augmented reality.

This has very exciting implications for augmented reality – which apple has picked up on:

On the new iPad Pro, AR apps become even more realistic. Placing an AR object now happens instantly. Realistic object occlusion allows AR objects to pass in front of and behind real-world structures. Improved motion capture and people occlusion are more accurate than ever. And developers will be able to create even more immersive experiences.

Augmented Reality

The Implications for AR are well timed. Pokémon Go became a favourite app and changed perspectives on experiencing the outside world. Maya James wore an Augmented Reality dress to the BAFTAS this year and when she moved her arms, those using AR were provided with a unique view of her wardrobe. The new £20 note, which features The Fighting Temeraire, has an AR feature using a snapchat lens so that when it is taken to Turner paintings, it animates.

Now more than ever before, users will be able to view AR variations of the world around them. Virtual art exhibitions could become more common place, imaging the prospective interior design of a room will become normal (as it already is for Ikea app users) and more and more product designers will want to include an AR feature on their product to make them unique.

Each of these uses are part of an increasing trend whereby AR is becoming more mainstream and this has interesting intellectual property implications.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property is relevant to AR, particularly when images containing AR objects are captured. There will be questions of authorship of the image, as the AR object (which could be anything from a sofa to a cat) has been produced by the code written. Questions of who is responsible for the configuration of the final image will likely find their answers in copyright but authorship may be hard to determine.

If AR begins to replicate, distort replaces or animates registered trade marks there could be trade mark infringement issues. This is likely to be the case if the AR environment is showing a trade mark in a detrimental way. Similar would apply for any copyright work, with the potential for AR to infringe on the moral rights of the author by subjecting work to derogatory treatment.

The applications are increasingly numerous and the possibilities are there for enhancing entertainment, social media, advertising, performance art and creating immersive experiences enabling individuals to connect with their environments in new ways.

Developers should consider the intellectual property implications throughout app development and question whether permissions are required to use works subject to copyright, trade marks and other intellectual property rights.

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