Another month, another augmented reality-related patent. And this time it is Microsoft’s turn again. If an augmented reality HUD is already a thing of the past (in terms of patent applications), the tech giant refocused their energy on what every AR experience should also have: a high quality 3D surround sound system.
As discovered by many avid gamers or home cinema enthusiasts, current sound systems have a major flaw – they only have a certain centre spot within their range where the sound quality is as advertised by the manufacturer. Any movement outside this “sweet spot” will damage the immersive audio experience. This can become even a bigger problem when AR entertainment starts to take off, especially because this will most likely require user movement (as demonstrated by the mobile focus of AR applications).
Nonetheless it seems that Microsoft might have a solution. In a recent patent application, the company describes a technology that uses a “depth camera system” to track a user and then delivers focused 3D audio to the listener, regardless of their position in the room. The audio signal will depend on a number of components recorded by the sensor such as the surrounding objects and estimations of the materials they are made of which could enhance or negatively affect how sound travels through the environment. The system then uses this data to deliver specific audio cues inside a user’s soundscape.
Although Microsoft doesn’t make any reference to their Xbox Kinect, this will most likely be one of the beneficiaries of the 3D audio technology due to the movement required by its players. Kinect’s motion-sensor camera is already gathering information about the player and their movements. So the new “depth camera” which will use an RBG image sensor, an infrared laser projector and a depth sensor could be a future updated version of Kinect.
The patent application also describes another data-collection scenario in which the user wears sensors that help the system determine one’s position and movement. These could be integrated in the AR headset Microsoft already has a patent for or they could be placed on the user’s body.
If the patent is to be won by Microsoft and if the system does what they say, it will surely become another gold mine (through licensing) for the tech giant. With no other similar 3D audio system to date capable of all the above things, this could become the must-have of any augmented reality entertainment system.