Future BlackBerrys to feature Thermal Imaging?


An electronic device is configured to capture thermal information of objects and subjects in real-time utilizing a camera or infrared sensors or utilizing a camera and infrared sensors. The electronic device comprises a display which can depict thermal or temperature information regarding objects or subjects overlaid or layered on image data of objects or subjects. Displayed temperature or thermal information can include numeric information corresponding to discrete or bounded or partially bounded areas of objects or subjects. Thermal information or temperature information can be combined with augmented-reality applications in an electronic device and shared with other electronic devices via one or more networks.

This morning, a good friend of mine from CrackBerry sent me a link to an article about a recent patent that even Q would be proud of. RIM applied for a patent titled "Thermographic Augmented Reality Display In An Electronic Device," application number 13/007763 (if you'd like to read the original article I read about this, you can here). When I first heard about it, I assumed that the patent would be in relation to RIM's QNX automotive development; for example, to detect if any deer or beavers were in the road ahead. After looking at the patent and reading some other information about it, I quickly realized that this was not the case. RIM filed a patent for a Smartphone that would detect heat levels, and then use augmented reality to overlay heat information onto the image displayed by your smartphone camera. According to the patent, the thermal imaging would be capable of displaying either temperatures or heat gradients.

I'm not entirely sure what practical application a camera like this could have, other than for James Bond (perhaps in detecting fevers or other medical uses). I did find it amusing that the phone pictured appeared to be a Storm2, but as the drawings are at least 18 months old I suppose that shouldn't come as a surprise.

Regardless, this is a super cool patent (in my opinion). If you'd like to see the patent in full, you can check it out at the US Patent Office Website. Keep in mind that just because a patent has been applied for doesn't mean that it will ever be available in a consumer product, or even be approved by the patent office or FCC.

Addendum: Some Legal Analysis

Originally I did not intend to include this in the OpenSourceBB blog, but after discussing it with other OSBB Team members I decided a short blurb might be of interest to some of our readers.

When I began reading about this patent and what it could do, I recalled a case that we discussed in a Criminal Law class which I took Fall Semester of 2011. The topic at that time was the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, which was focused on what constitutes an unlawful search. The case which was being discussed (and one which this patent and any products which use the technology it describes will, if ever created, have an immense bearing on) is Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27. I don't expect anyone to know of the top of their heads what Kyllo is about, so I'll give a brief, very informal summary:

Kyllo was growing pot in his house, and the Police suspected he was. For those of you unfamilliar with growing any sort of plant, there's a need for heat and light in order for the plants to grow. Marijuana growth generally involves heat lamps, which, as the name implies, put off a lot of heat. So police officers got some thermal imaging devices, and at 3am, when the home would generally be fairly cool, took several measurements of the temperatures emanating from the home.

Now I can't make head or tails of this low resolution image that I have of the thermal imaging (obviously, the police were not using state of the art BlackBerry Thermal Cameras), but someone could interpret it well enough to claim that there was a lot more heat than would normally be expected emenating from the area above Kyllo's garage. Using this evidence, the police got a warrant to search Kyllo's home and, surprise surprise, found a bunch of pot there.

Kyllo's case went up to the Supreme Court on the issue of whether or not police could use a thermal imaging device without a warrant; Kyllo claimed it was a search, and violated the Constitution. The prosecution, naturally, argued that it was not. The Supreme Court found that it was indeed an impermissible search (which is why you don't see cops driving around with thermal imaging devices). However, the reason why it was considered a search was not based on any sort of invasion of privacy argument. According to the court,

Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a “search” and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant. - Justice Scalia

 That is, police couldn't use a thermal imaging device without a warrant because thermal imaging devices weren't generally available to the public. So if thermal imaging devices ARE generally available, does that mean that police can ride around scanning everyone's homes for out of the ordinary heat and get a warrant to search it as a result?

I'm not on the Supreme Court (or even an attorney), but I would assume that the answer, based on Kyllo, is yes. So if Thermal Imaging BlackBerrys are released, make sure to heavily insulate any area of your home where you intend to have a shrubbery.

Shane Cridlebaugh

Co-founder and legal nay-sayer of OSBB. Owner of SCrApps Application Development, WebWorks aficionado, Open Source contributor. SCrid2000 on most blogs. I build awesome BlackBerry apps when I'm not doing legal work or spending time with my wife and two boys.

Follow me on Twitter - @GShaneC

Check out my apps in BlackBerry World

Website: SCrApps.org

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