KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo firmly believes that the 10th anniversary iPhone 8 would have some kind of 3D sensing technology for facial recognition and augmented reality (AR) applications. His claim was bolstered Tuesday by a patent awarded to Apple. The patent documents titled “Enhanced face detection using depth information” describe a technology that uses depth information to detect faces in a digital video feed.

iPhone 8 Facial Recognition
Image Credit: Apple Inc. / USPTO (screenshot)

It uses depth information to detect faces

Apple obtained the technology through its acquisition of Israeli motion sensor startup PrimeSense in 2013. Face detection algorithms can detect whether a scene or “window” contains faces. But things get more complex when the software has to detect faces in a live video or a dynamic scene. It could lead to more processing power consumption and a higher false detection rate.

Apple’s patent filing describes a method to apply depth information to existing face detection algorithms. It intelligently scales the window sizes based on their depth coordinates. For instance, a face close to the lens would have a larger capture frame, but the capture frame would be smaller for a face further away from the lens. A special infrared light system projects an optical radiation pattern onto the scene. The system then captures the patterned light to process and convert it into a corresponding depth map, reports Apple Insider.

Will Apple use it in iPhone 8?

Though the patented technology can detect whether there is a human face in the scene, it cannot identify who that face belongs to. In short, it can’t identify the differences between individual faces. A facial recognition system needs to be able to identify faces with high accuracy for authentication. However, it can serve as an enabling step in the facial recognition setup.

Barclays analysts said in a research report (via Business Insider) that Apple could use two methods for the 3D camera that could recognize faces and support augmented reality. In the Time of Flight (ToF) method, a system would emit signals at the object in front of it and then calculate the bounce off to create a 3D image of the object. The second method, Structured Light (SL) would project a pattern onto the object. It would distort the object into pieces to analyze its shape and create a corresponding 3D image.

iPhone 8 to feature AR

According to MacRumors, the iPhone 8 would consist of as many as three modules for 3D sensing. It is unclear whether the newly patented technology would be one of them. But reports suggest that Apple would use PrimeSense’s technology in the iPhone 8. The 10th anniversary iPhone is also expected to bring augmented reality (AR). Apple has about 1,000 engineers working on AR at its Israel facility.

The iPhone 8 is rumored to have a glass front and back supported by a stainless steel frame. The physical home button would be replaced by a dynamic “function area” that would offer controls depending on the apps on the screen.