Adding fuel to recent rumors of wearable Apple devices, such as the much-discussed “iWatch” suggested by The New York Times last weekend, is a new patent granted to Apple by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Organization and published today. Titled “Personal Items Network, and Associated Methods,” the lengthy and detailed patent filing builds on hundreds of previous inventions to describe a complex method of monitoring movement, environmental conditions, and other factors relevant to wearable computers.
The methods described by the patent include Apple’s vision for a series of wirelessly-linked sensors that work together to track, analyze, and communicate data such as movement, force, environmental conditions, and health information. As the patent explains, such a system would be useful for a variety of applications ranging from tracking damage to packages shipped via delivery services such as FedEx to determining “how effective a hand strike is in karate or boxing.”
Apple describes two types of sensors that can work individually or together to achieve the described system: movement monitoring devices (MMDs), which monitor movement and positioning, and event monitoring devices (EMDs), which “monitor and report temperature, humidity, chemicals, heart rate, pulse, pressure, stress, weight, environmental factors and hazardous conditions.” Both types of devices can take many different forms, including adhesive designs that can be affixed to packaging, modules that can be attached to sporting equipment, and clip-ons that can be attached to athletic clothing or worn directly by a user.
When their capabilities are combined, these sensors can be used to monitor movement and heart rate during exercise, monitor the humidity of air or the pH level or water when attached to scientific equipment, or report the movement and force of athletes (imagine scoreboards reporting the force delivered by a defensive linebacker to an opposing quarterback during a sack in real time).
While Apple has described an incredibly large number of potential uses for its newly-patented process, the wearable nature of the sensors combined with the recent rumors of the iWatch lead some to believe that much of the patent will be used to protect novel features of what is expected to be Apple’s “next big thing.” Those interested in dissecting all 84 pages of the filing can find it at the USPTO website.