iPad Pro 2020 wins LiDAR: learn how the 3D sensor works

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Apple announced the new generation of the iPad Pro last Wednesday (18). The tablet arrived full of news, but the addition that most surprised the audience was the scanner type LiDAR – acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. The technology uses a system similar to the Time of Flight sensor (ToF or “Flight Time” in Portuguese) to scan environments and create 3D experiences with depth of field in augmented reality (AR).

How it works
LiDAR works in a simple way: photons of infrared light are fired into the environment to calculate the distance between objects and understand the depth of field of the place. By pointing the camera at the desired object, the sensor will receive light pulse responses at different time intervals and, thus, calculate the specific distance between the smartphone and the different elements that are in the image. With the calculations, the scanner can create a 3D map of the environment and apply it to augmented reality apps. The range limit is five meters.

The technology is not exclusive to Apple and is in use, for example, smart cars that do not require human drivers. The sensor is considered crucial for the advancement of this industry, being used to give “vision” to cars and record everything around, such as cyclists, pedestrians and other cars. In 2015, Apple itself was already testing LiDAR on smart cars. Of course, the version used on the iPad Pro is much smaller than the options found in automobiles.

What is LiDAR for?
The new sensor aims to strengthen Apple’s augmented reality market. The company has been producing options for the industry since 2017, when it announced the AR Kit platform and started developing apps with AR.

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Probably the biggest use of LiDAR will be in new applications launched with the iPad Pro. For example, the game Hot Lava is one of the options announced with the tablet. Currently, the game is available on Steam, but the mobile version will be exclusive to the Apple Arcade service. In this variant of Hot Lava, the player scans an environment, such as a living room, and the game will generate a scenario with hot lava. The main mission is to run from the lava and climb on objects that are free from danger.

The sensor will also improve the Measure application (Measure in the App Store in Brazil), making it easier to calculate dimensions. It will even be possible to automatically measure someone’s height and use a ruler. Another interesting use will be with the Shapr3d app, which digitizes environments in 3D models and even allows users to add new objects in this scan.

The Complete Anatomy app will also be updated. Users will be able to study and take measurements with a real human being. For example, using the movement of an arm to visualize and understand the set of muscles in that region. Apple also revealed the commercial use of LiDAR with the Ikea store chain app, where consumers will be able to choose home furniture through augmented reality.

Like ToF, Apple’s new sensor is also expected to improve photographs on the iPad Pro, as it is capable of calculating depth of field. The Cupertino giant is expected to invest considerably in this area in the coming years. The technology should also be used in Apple Glasses digital glasses, scheduled for 2023.

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