Sony’s HMD Patent Application

Earlier this year, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Sony announced that its virtual reality headset for the PS4 would launch in October 2016.  At GDC, Sony also demonstrated the social aspect of its VR systems, in which multiple players interacted with each other in a virtual reality environment.

Sony 163 Appl FIG 11

Last week, on May 12, the USPTO published Sony’s patent application, Sony Computer Entertainment’s U.S. Patent Appl. No. 14/996,163 (the ‘163 application).  The ‘163 application is simply entitled “Head Mounted Display,” claims priority to a provision filed in June 9, 2013.  The “inventive concept” of the claims here appears to be rendering a player’s hands into the virtual reality scene, as shown below in claim 17 (emphasis added).

17.    A method for operating a head mounted display (HMD), comprising,

providing the HMD having a head attachment portion and a viewing module coupled to the head attachment portion, the viewing module including an inner side having a view port into a screen configuring for rendering a virtual reality scene, and an exterior housing;

providing a communications module for exchanging data with a computer system, the computer system is configured to generate the virtual reality scene for the screen;

providing a depth camera integrated into the viewing module and oriented to capture depth data of an envrionment in front of the exterior housing; and

processing, by the computer system, the depth data captured by the depth camera to identify hands of a user wearing the HMD in the environment, wherein the hands are rendered into the virtual reality scene, the hands being tracked such that movements of the hands appear as movements of virtual hands extending into the virtual reality scene.

As evident from the claims, the rendering of the virtual hands relies upon data captured by a depth camera located on the HMD.  This is interesting because the depth camera appears to be technology that Sony developed as early as 2011 in response to Microsoft’s Kinect technology.  More information about Sony’s depth camera can be found here and here.

 

Valve’s Chaperone Patent Application

A key distinguishing “feature” of the Vive, a virtual reality system jointly developed by HTC and Valve, is room scale technology.  Room scale allows a VR system to track a user’s position within a physical space through the use of “lighthouses” placed in the corners of a room.  Room scale purports to create a more immersive experience, whereby a user can physically move about within her virtual environment.

The downside to all of this is that Vive users may run into walls … or worse.

Enter: Chaperone.  Chaperone is a feature of Vive, wherein graphical representations of physical boundaries appear when the user is about to collide with a wall. A recently published patent application reveals Valve’s attempt to patent the aptly-named feature to prevent such accidents (and perhaps avoid lawsuits like this).

Vive Chaperone Patent FIG 9

U.S. Patent Application No. 14/933,955, published on May 5, 2016, is entitled “Sensory Feedback Systems and Methods for Guiding Users in Virtual Reality Environments.”  The application is assigned to Valve, and claims priority to a provisional application filed in November 2014.  The application presently includes a single independent claim which recites, in part, “a method for warning a user of a head-mounted display of potential collisions with real-world obstacles.”  (The USPTO has yet to issue its first office action.)

The specification of the ‘955 application is an interesting read for VR enthusiasts (i.e., geeks) for other reasons.  First, for historical buffs, the application includes a photograph of an early HMD, Vive Chaperone Patent FIG 2which could be described as “less-than-flattering.”

Second, to define a user’s physical “play” space, the Vive setup currently requires a user to physically walk around the edge of the room with a controller in hand.  The specification of the ‘955 application discloses defining the boundaries of the user’s physical space through the use of “lasers or ultrasound.”  Could this be a feature of Vive 2.0?

Third, the specification also describes the “teleportation” game mechanic that is presently used in two room-scale games: the Lab and the Budget Cuts demo.  This game mechanic addresses the problem of locomotion within a “virtual space” (e.g., spacecraft hangar) that is larger than the real-world space in which the Vive system is setup (e.g., your home office).  It will be interesting to see if Valve attempts to file a continuation on this game mechanic, especially in light of Alice and the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in In re Smith.

Finally, it will also be interesting to see how the claims of the ‘955 application will change, if at all, throughout prosecution, especially in light of expectations that Oculus will be implementing its own room scale technology in the near future.