New Apple patent points to AR headphones that can virtually position people

AR headset patent drawing
AR headset patent drawing (Image credit: Patently Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple has been granted a patent relating to AR headphones.
  • The headphones would be able to position voices in virtual space.
  • That woud make it easier to identify voices on conference calls.

Apple has received a new patent that relates to headphones that could posiiton a person's voice in virtual space. The patent suggests that this could be used during conference calls, making it easier for the headphone wearer to know who is speaking without having to rely on recognizing their voice.

Headphones with 3D technology are nothing new but they are usually aimed at gamers. These AR headphones would be specifically suited to being used on calls involving multiple people, with voices assigned a position in virtual space as they join.

Multiparty audio conference calls typically include audio signals from individual callers in different locations, such that it may be difficult to recognize who is speaking by voice alone. Often, a listener uses a stereo headset to listen to the conversation, and the audio signals may be processed to enhance recognition of the different participants.

The patent, first spotted by Patently Apple also mentions allowing the headphone wearer to turn their head to face the person speaking with the voice moving accordingly.

Audio signals from the individual callers are processed by simulating a virtual audio environment (e.g., virtual room) whose acoustic properties resemble those of the real environment in which the listener is situated. Metadata included in the audio signals may be used to automatically cluster callers and reposition groups of participants in the virtual audio environment. Using a head-tracked sound reproduction system, the audio signals are dynamically filtered with binaural room impulse responses to account for and preserve the rendered location of the callers in the virtual audio environment. To increase speech intelligibility, the listener can rotate to the position of the active speaker, similar to a natural conversation.

As with all Apple patents there is no guarentee that this will ever turn into something that ships. But with Apple known to be heading deeper into the world of augmented reality it's possible there may be something here. And while this implementation seems focused on business use there's no denying the fact it could also be repurposed for other things including gaming.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.