While the appearance of an additional camera in the iPhone or iPad is clearly noticeable, the equipping of new Apple devices with the LIDAR sensor is ignored by many. What kind of technology is this and how much is it needed by a wide range of users?
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What is LiDAR?
The very word LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) literally stands for “light detection and ranging.” This technology is actively used in geodesy, cartography, where the light emitter is a laser.
In short-range systems, it is successfully replaced by LEDs. The principle of operation of LiDAR is quite simple – the emitter emits light waves, and the receiver receives the reflected signal returned from the body, taking into account the effect of the scattering medium. Based on the response time, the distance to the object can be determined.
This is how LiDAR sees the world around it:
The iPad Pro, which appeared in March 2020 (review) and in the fall, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max just received a LiDAR sensor on the rear camera unit.
LiDAR in iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max
LiDAR on iPad Pro
What is LiDAR for iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro for?
LiDAR on the iPhone can be in demand today and perform practical tasks. We can talk about the use of technology in shooting the most natural portraits with natural bokeh effect. LiDAR helps the hair, ears, and other body parts of humans or animals stay in focus. In the future, the capabilities of this technology may be expanded to include portrait videos. But this will happen in the next releases of the operating system or even with the release of new iPhone models.
It seems possible to use LiDAR for ultra-precise measurement of physical distances. In practical life, any owner of an up-to-date iPhone or iPad with this technology will be able to accurately measure the dimensions of his apartment without any problems: the length and height of the walls, the curvature of the floor. But the point here is not to satisfy curiosity, such information can be useful when carrying out construction work. Usually rangefinders and levels are required there, but a smartphone with a lidar can replace them. There are already applications that use the lidar to scan the contours of the workspace and then create a model of the production room, placing three-dimensional objects there.
And given the fact that the LiDAR sensor works excellently not only during daylight hours, but also in the dark, this camera is used to improve the Night mode of shooting in iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. The sensor has excellent object recognition, which allows up to 6 times faster autofocus aiming. As a result, the number of night photos in which the focus is out of focus will decrease dramatically.
There is one more area of application of LiDAR technology. According to the company, this element was missing for the implementation of revolutionary augmented reality applications. Apple’s LIDAR sensor is capable of measuring the distance to objects up to 5 meters away, working both indoors and outdoors. The operating system combines this information with data from cameras, motion sensors and processes it using computer vision algorithms. This helps the iPhone and iPad Pro place AR objects on the analyzed scene faster and better. There is no doubt that thanks to LIDAR, the AR level will increase, giving new sensations from the capabilities of Apple technology.
I must say that the company has been trying to master the field of augmented reality for a long time, working on the corresponding software and hardware since 2017. Then the ARKit platform was presented for developing similar applications for iOS. Since then, every major operating system update has come with a demo of AR technology, be it Minecraft or Lego. And every improvement in cameras or processor implicitly promises another improvement in technology. But there are still not many real possibilities of its application.
ARKit-based app automatically and instantly receives information about the placement of objects in the camera’s field of view, improved motion capture to engage people. The appearance of the LIDAR sensor led to the update of ARKit and the emergence of a new Scene Geometry API, which will just allow using the new scanner to implement previously impossible scenarios.
It is possible that the LIDAR sensor will give a new impetus to this story. And already there are applications that take advantage of the new feature of Apple devices. So, Apple Arcade introduced the game Hot Lava, which turns a living room into a playable surface.
The device scans the room and places in it a virtual lava field and a platform for the characters to jump. Shapr3D allows you to scan a room and then create a 3D model of it for further editing. IKEA Place has similar functionality, which, after analyzing the room, will help you choose furniture for it.
The LIDAR scanner will improve the Roulette application for calculating the dimensions of material objects. It has a virtual tape measure for more detailed measurements.
While the field of augmented reality is amazing, but not at all an integral part of our life. Apple is systematically, step by step, doing everything to fix this. One can only welcome such an intention to diversify our future. And the LIDAR scanner is an important tool in the way of technology implementation.