USPTO Apple 3D
An Apple Inc. patent illustration published by the United States Patent and Trademark office USPTO/Apple

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has gained a patent on its 3-D imaging and display technology.

The U.S. Patent Office published the patent, entitled “Three-Dimensional Imaging and Display System,” as part of 46 patents granted to Apple on Tuesday. According to "Patently Apple," the Cupertino, California, tech titan previously had filed a patent regarding the same invention in June and before that in 2011.

June’s patent application focused on detecting user controls in a 3-D area. This time around the patent focuses the imaging display and scanning beam used to detect user inputs.

USPTO 3D patent illustration
An Apple Inc. patent illustration published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office USPTO/Apple

Apple notes in the patent description that such technology could have a number of applications, including "medical diagnostics, entertainment, flight simulation, robotics, education, animation, biomechanical studies, virtual reality” and more.

With the invention, users would be able to manipulate and control objects over a 3-D space, much like Tony Stark manipulated objects using futuristic computer modeling tools in the film “Iron Man.”

But Apple acquiesced in the patent description that projecting images onto an external display continues to be the most economical route for the technology at this time.

It’s unknown whether or not such 3-D imaging and control technology will publicly be revealed by Apple anytime in the near future. But Apple’s acquisition of 3-D sensing technology company, PrimeSense, in 2013 indicates that Apple is continuing to explore the possibilities of 3-D technology. The Israeli company caught the eyes of technology companies in 2010, when Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) introduced its Kinect motion sensor for the Xbox 360, which utilized a chip made by the company.

Other tech companies such as Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) have explored 3-D technology as well with products such as the Amazon Fire phone, but at this time their 3-D imaging technology implementation is still limited to the 2-D screen it’s currently displayed on.