Apple patents technology for AR audio headphones

Apple patents technology for AR audio headphones
Imagine listening to a conference call on a headset and knowing the position of everyone in the room just by listening to the sound. Apple apparently is planning on developing AR audio headphones and has just received a patent covering related technology from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (via 9to5Mac). Called Intelligent augmented audio conference calling using headphones, the patent mentions how augmented reality headsets take metadata generated from audio signals and "associates each of the audio signals with a spatial position in a virtual representation of the conference call."

As Apple explained in the patent documentation "Multiparty conference calls often have callers participating from different locations which may be all over the world. In situations without video feedback, it is especially difficult to identify a speaker. Often, when callers can't be identified or heard, interaction during such conference calls may be awkward. Embodiments discussed herein aim to provide a more intuitive, clear teleconference experience." If a conference call is made up of callers from different locations, a virtual room is created and a position in the room is assigned to each person as they join the call. If the listener on a conference call turns his head toward someone in the virtual conference room, the audio will adjust to match how it would have sounded had the listener really been in the room.

AR audio headphones will allow a listener to know who is speaking even if he can't recognize the speaker's voice.

In the patent, Apple mentions something it calls "the 'Cocktail Party' mechanism in the listener's brain." The company explains that this is "a key psychoacoustic process enabling an improved sound source segregation." Apple continues by mentioning the advantages to the listener and says, "It is therefore advantageously possible to more easily identify individual talkers and to increase speech intelligibility, without the need for visual cues or the need for a caller to state a name before talking during the conference call. Furthermore, it is advantageously possible to provide a virtual audio environment that is more natural sounding as compared to conventional technologies." The company believes that knowing who is speaking and where that person is in a room makes it easier to participate in such a call. It will also help the listener understand what is being said during an audio-only conference call. And even if a listener cannot recognize the voice of the person talking, he still can tell who it is based on the speaker's position in the room.

In one scenario mentioned in the patent documentation, Apple envisions that a caller being assigned to a position in a virtual conference room is placed in a group that could be made up of family members or based on the geographic location of the caller or even the strength of the caller's signal. In a situation where there are two different and separate groups, one might be "placed" to the left of the listener while callers from the other group are "placed" to the right of the listener.

It's an intriguing technology that if commercialized, could help Apple sell a ton of AR headphones to corporations. And there might even be some use for the technology by consumers listening to podcasts, streaming radio (including audio-based news apps) and more. This technology could eventually be used with video games. Or, as Apple points out on all of its patents, the patented technology might never see the light of day. Not that Apple isn't high on AR; it is. Earlier this month we told you that the company reportedly plans on offering a mixed reality headset in 2022 with the long-awaited AR glasses to appear the following year.

The patent was originally filed back in June 2017 and was previously published last December before being awarded to Apple.

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