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Future iPhone health features may include cameras that measure temperature

Apple has been researching camera technology that would allow an iPhone image to be analyzed to determine the temperature of the object photographed.

Typically, it’s the Apple Watch that is most associated with Apple’s health ambitions. However, a newly-revealed patent application shows that devices like the iPhone and potentially iPad could have a role to play in monitoring a user’s health.

“Camera attachment and image data processing for temperature measurement,” is concerned with the measurement of any object’s temperature. However, while Apple gives few examples of its use, the ones it alludes to are all about “measuring body temperature,” and doing so on iPhone.

“Given the ubiquitous nature of smartphones, the [proposed] attachment can be used to convert a smartphone into a temperature measurement device to provide readily accessible temperature measurements,” says the patent application. “In some embodiments, the attachment is a passive attachment (without electronics or need for a power supply) and may thereby reduce manufacturing costs and increase availability.”

The attachment referred in the text, and shown in the drawings, resembles Olloclip lens systems. Rather than necessarily being a permanent part of the iPhone’s camera, the attachment could be temporarily added when a user wants to measure temperature.

“For example,” continues the patent application, “a camera attachment [could be] provided that includes a frame configured to couple with a camera.” The frame would be more than a mounting method for a lens, it would form a key part of the whole measurement process.

That’s because Apple says that the attachment “includes a temperature reactive material (TRM) that is coupled with the frame.” However the attachment is mounted, it is “configured to position the TRM within the field of view of the camera.”

The camera only needs to photograph a portion of this frame.

“[The TRM] that is thermally coupled with the surface and imaged to provide image data of the temperature reactive material that is analyzed to measure the temperature,” says Apple.

Detail from the patent showing an arrangement of lenses and components

Detail from the patent showing an arrangement of lenses and components

Apple’s patent application shows an example of a series of images taken at known, different temperatures. It implies that temperature measurement could then be done by comparing a new image with a set of previous ones.

That implies that the user, or more likely Apple, must take a series of images to build up this store. Similarly, the fact that the attachment need not be permanent, suggests that this would be for a tool that is used on occasionally.

It wouldn’t, for instance, be constantly monitoring every photograph taken.

The patent application is credited to three inventors. They include Zijing Zeng, whose previous work for Apple includes research into bed sensors for sleep tracking.

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