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Nintendo’s Switch patents may have one more big secret to reveal

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Projecting images onto your hand

Nintendo’s Switch will include a gyroscope, GPS, touchscreen, compass, motion tracking, image recognition and the ability to project images onto a flat surface or hand, if the company’s patents for the system remain accurate.

Last week Nintendo gave us our first look at its next gaming system, but with a healthy caveat: There is more to show and say about the Switch before it launches in March.

Looking over the series of patents Nintendo filed in the lead up to the October reveal of the Switch seems to give us some indication of what those secrets are.

Keep in mind, just because the patents include new details about the system, it doesn’t necessarily mean all of this will be coming to the Switch. That said, these patents do line-up with everything we already know about the system. That includes the detachable controllers, the fact that it can link to a television and that it uses a tablet form factor.

But there’s lot more to the system, according to those patents.

For instance, a patent filed in January and published in August, details the device and its many input and output methods. The device has a touch panel, a vibration motor, microphone, speaker, geomagnetic compass, camera and GPS receiver.

Most interesting though, is a cluster of holes located in the patent picture on one side of the device. The cluster includes an infrared camera, a light-emitting distance measuring sensor, an infrared emitter and a projector. This cluster is used to, among other things, detect motion, shapes and gestures and project images onto a “screen or the hand of a user.”

Three more patents, one filed in September 2015 and published in March, one filed in February and published in August and another filed in January and published in August, goes into more detail about how gesture detection would be used in games. In one example, the patent shows how the device can recognize a player’s hand to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with the device’s cameras. Other examples include:

  • Answering math questions by holding up the correct number of fingers
  • Moving a snake across the screen by moving their hand toward the side of the device
  • Steering a car
  • Projecting an image or colors onto a player’s hand from the device
  • Detecting what a player is holding in their hand
  • Throwing a virtual baseball projected onto a hand back into the game using gestures (or catching a ball projected out from the screen.)

The most intriguing element of the Switch patents, the ability for the device to project images, isn’t detailed very well. While all the patents that seem related to the device note that ability and describe that it can be used for gameplay, there’s not much more explained.

According to the patents, the array of cameras and sensors in the side of the device are also used to communicate with and verify the authenticity of the controller. It also appears that the Switch can have different controller types. In one example in a patent, a controller with a dial is described.

Looking over the video unveiling of the Switch and the images provided, there isn’t much to prove or disprove whether everything in these patents will actually exist in the final product. The slide-on controllers do seem to provide the space for that cluster of sensors, but because the connection is recessed on the side of the unit, it’s hard to see if they exist.

While the patents show a camera on the back of the device, the images provided by Nintendo don’t seem to show one on the back of the Switch.

There are no references made to a touch screen or motion controls, though given the number of existing games that support both and seem to be coming to the Switch, it seems likely they would both be included.

Nintendo Switch hardware Image: Nintendo

Nintendo’s history of innovation and pushing forward the way people interact with games seems to backup the likelihood that the Switch still has a big surprise or two in store for us. If that’s the case, including motion and image detection in the device as well as the ability to project images could be that twist Nintendo is holding back on announcing until early next year.

We’ve reached out to the company for comment and will update this story when they respond.