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Apple patent imagines automatic group selfies for the age of social distancing

Social distancing won’t kill the selfie star. Apple has patented technology that will let you create what the company called “synthetic group selfies.”

Apple patent imagines automatic group selfies for the age of social distancing
[Photo: rawpixel]
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Social distancing won’t kill the selfie star.

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Apple has patented technology that will let you create what the company called “synthetic group selfies.”

In the age of keeping six feet away from everyone not in your household, snapping group photos challenge physical logistics, but one day you might be able to kind of fake it. Here’s how: Individual selfies are pulled from still photos, stored video, and streaming video, stripped of backgrounds, and organized into a so-called composition.

“Group selfies can be easily generated without having to organize or arrange people around a camera,” the 29-page application reads. “Individual selfies can be automatically and intelligently arranged within the synthetic group selfie so that the user is not required to arrange individual selfies within the synthetic group selfie.”

The newly crafted selfie montage is saved as a multi-resource object, which keeps the original individual selfies intact, so the creator or the recipient of the faux group photo can modify how it looks.

This Apple innovation, it should be noted, has nothing to do with the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has isolated billions of people around the world as they quarantine, shelter in place, or simply stay home. But the patent’s timing could be seen as convenient since all that has put a damper on group photos that exclude relatives, roommates, pets, and whoever else lives with you.

We reached out to Apple for comment on the patent and will update if we hear back. The Cupertino, California, company applied for this patent long before “coronavirus” joined the daily vocabulary. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, it was filed in July 2018—and granted 23 months later.

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Patents don’t always become products

According to patent historian and Brooklyn Law School professor Christopher Beauchamp, people used to file patents and then sit on them until the time was right, most famously George Selden’s patent for what would become the automobile once Henry Ford started ramping up. Now patents are more a race against the clock, and every once in a while, “something comes along to make them super valuable. The best examples would be military examples and war.”

Plenty of patented inventions never surface in the marketplace at all. He cited an all-standing, seatless commercial airplane and a fully automated police car that drives suspects to the station and books them en route.

“If everything people predicted in patents came true, the world would be a horrible, dystopian place,” Beauchamp said. “People patent hundreds of thousands of things every year. Some things have got to pan out.”

With a bit of clairvoyance, Apple called the process of organizing a real group selfie “more difficult,” because everyone must be within the camera’s field of view, so “an easier mechanism for capturing a group selfie would be advantageous.”