Google launched its newest flagship smartphones, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, last month. While the devices were not revolutionary by any means, it did bring modern features like wireless charging and a notched display on the larger model. While the Pixel 3 XL got a wide and deep notch, it did not bring one feature: 3D facial recognition.
The use of facial recognition system as part of biometric identification became popular with the launch of iPhone X last year. Apple doubled down on that implementation with the launch of iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and the new iPad Pro this year. Now, Google might bring similar technology to its own phones as early as next year. The search giant has been granted a patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office that could bring VCSELs (or vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers) for facial recognition to Pixel smartphones.
The grant of this patent is in line with a Reuters report from March, which suggested that “most Android phones will have to wait at least until 2019 to get Apple’s Face ID-like feature”. The patent 10,139,217 titled “Array based patterned illuminator projector” could pave way for facial recognition system on Android phones next year.
Apple’s patent for TrueDepth Camera, that powers Face ID system, detailed inclusion of a “Flood Illuminator” and “Dot Projector” that projects light onto the face of a subject to create a 3D model of the user. Google’s patent uses similar technology and is being described as “pattern illuminator projector”.
The figure 5 in Google‘s patent application shows block diagram of an example system that includes a light emitter and a light detector. The patent application spotted by Patently Apple shows diagram called figure 6, which shows a flowchart of a method for operating a light emitter to produce patterns of illumination. “The light emitter #560 producing a particular pattern of illumination includes generating light from a set of one or more interconnected light-emitting elements (e.g., LEDs, lasers, VCSELs) of the die #570,” Google explains.
Watch: Google Pixel 3 XL Hands-On
This light emitter can be part of a smartphone, digital assistant, head-mounted display, controller for a robot or other system or even used with some other portable computing device. This light emitted from the emitter could be used to determine the location of objects relative to such other objects.
The main purpose of this mechanism could be to unlock the smartphone by just looking at the VCSEL system. But Google also envisions it being used for motion capture or to support gesture recognition on the device. This all falls in line with prediction that VCSELs will have a huge application in gesture recognition. There is a possibility that we will see this technology on the Pixel 4 next year.