Apple Patents Super Resolution Photo Technology

Apple has patented a super resolution photo technology that is capable of boosting resolution without the need of adding more megapixels recently, according to Apple Insider and several other reports.

The super resolution photo technology filed last Thursday at the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (USPTO) is based on Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) technology, which sets Apple apart from smartphone competitors.

Put simply the OIS system takes a series of photos in quick succession, each at a different offset angle. The resulting photo samples are sent into an image processing engine, which could be a camera smartphone App. Apple’s patented OIS system integrates the conventional systems with advanced imaging process techniques that includes software.

Apple's filing integrates traditional OIS system (which consists of inertial sensors and OIS positioning to detect movement, such as shaky hands) with advanced image processing techniques to create what it calls "super-resolution" imaging.

Apple's patented OIS system diagram submitted to USPTO. (Image Courtesy of Apple Insider)

In one embodiment, the system comprises of a camera, an actuator for OIS positioning, a positioning sensor, inertial sensor, an OIS processor and a super resolution engine. A central processor, such as the iPhone 5s A7 system-on-chip could regulate the mechanism and act as a data transfer hub between different components. (For more info on the OIS patent please see Apple Insider report.)

Traditionally, physical stabilization in OIS gives better image quality and stability than digital solutions that are software based. However, Apple might forego physical stabilization in next generation handsets to prevent additional hardware that could result in a much bulkier phone design. Whether the new technology will be incorporated in the upcoming iPhone remains unclear.

The patent application was first filed for in 2012 and credits Richard L. Baer and Damien J. Thivent as its inventors.

How this new technology will impact future camera lens cover material or even flash LED usage remains to be seen. In the past Apple’s upgraded camera specs were associated with demand for better image resolution, whether this trend will be keep up requires further observations. If the OIS can upgrade photo resolution without adding extra megapixels, and Apple sticks to a digital resolution approach it could translate to improved images using current camera lens specs. Future iPhone camera upgrades will probably be in image processing software and image processing chip hardware.

As for flash LED usage, new iPhone 6 designs leaked online recently revealed the use of round LED lights and return of single flash LEDs in the upcoming 4.7-inch phone, according to images leaked by Sonny Dickson and other reports. It is unclear whether Apple’s new OIS technology is the cause behind scaled down flash LED usage. 

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