Augmented reality is a seriously buzzy concept right now. A head-mounted computer that inserts interactive objects and holograms into your field of view, it could transform the world of work, pave the way for screenless computers, and create radical new entertainment mediums.
It may also have a rather niche, but extremely useful side-effect: It could stop you losing your keys.
A recently published patent application from Microsoft details how the technology could be used for “object tracking.” The cameras on the headsets, primarily used to monitor the physical environment (so the virtual objects can be added), could also be used to identify and monitor the locations and movements of real-world objects. (We first saw the patent over on CNET, and you can read the full filing below.)
It might learn what your keys look like, the patent filing suggests — and will then be able to tell you where it saw them last if you can’t remember where you put them down.
It gets even more interesting when it introduces the possible of multiple users’ AR headsets communicating with one-another. “Each person may become aware of changes to objects made by other users via the sharing of object tracking information,” the filing reads. “In this manner, a user may be able to discover a most recent location of lost keys, may be provided with a reminder to buy more milk while browsing the dairy section at a grocery store, and/or may track and recall other object state information in any suitable manner.”
In other words, if Will puts down his wallet, then Lyra moves it, Will’s headset will be told where it was moved to by Lyra’s, so it’s easy for him to find.
As Microsoft’s milk carton example indicates, this is by no means limited to keys (or wallets). It could be theoretically applied to just about any object, providing the AR cameras are capable of reliably identifying it.
We should caution that this is all likely a long way off — if it ever materialises. Microsoft’s augmented reality headset HoloLens is still in its early stages, and not yet marketed to consumers. And tech companies file thousands of patents every year that never make it into any finished product.
But the patent — first filed in September 2016 — still provides a tantalising insight into what one of the leaders in the field of augmented reality is thinking about, and the potential use cases we may see in the years ahead.