Samsung is exploring a new type of light-based in-display scanner that would be capable of reading far more than fingerprints, based on a patent recently published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) spotted by Android Headlines. On its surface, the device and associated imagery are described as a fairly straightforward system that reduces the space required while selectively emitting and receiving light with greater sensitivity than current technologies. That's placed beneath the display panel. Digging deeper into the documentation, however, reveals that the light sensor can be used in different 'modes' serving a variety of feature-focused purposes not unlike to those already found in Samsung flagships.
For example, the patent outlines that one primary use would be a "fingerprint recognition mode" wherein the reflected light would be used to recognize and register fingerprints for authentication. Other modes described include those associated with iris scanning or with detecting heart rate and rhythm, temperature, blood flow rate, skin moisture, and melanin. The patent goes further still to include the sensor's use as a way to receive touch-less input from a stylus or fingertip. That would allow gesture inputs and more without requiring the user to physically touch the display. Finally, the patent notes that the technology could be used in a wearable.
Background: This patent is just one of several that Samsung has recently applied for and been awarded showing how its under-display fingerprint scanners might work. It also borrows inspiration from at least a couple of those in that it's described as being at least partially flexible, indicating that the technology might be rolled into other inventions that are intended for foldable smartphones in the future. The technologies described alongside the fingerprint scanning capability are largely borrowed from previous Samsung inventions too. Many of its devices are already capable of detecting heart rate, analyzing appropriate metrics to ascertain a user's stress level and more. For now, all of those measurements are taken by separate sensors, though. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a prime example of that since it includes a fingerprint scanner on the back as well as an additional sensor for gathering heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and other information. The latter of those sensors is embedded next to the camera and utilizes the LED flash while the sensor receives reflections that allow analysis to be made by the Samsung Health app.
Impact: Samsung's goal with this patent is apparently to implement a number of sensors with very different uses into a single solution that can be placed under the screen of any given device. If that's the case and if the patent ever sees real-world use, it would represent a relatively big step forward in terms of convenience and user experience. But the space savings would be beneficial in several ways, too. Not only would a single, multi-purpose sensor free up precious millimeters within a handset or tablet for use by brand new components or a larger battery. It could also make the sensors usable behind the touchscreen of smaller devices like a smartwatch, adding features like fingerprint scanning that are currently next to non-existent on that platform. The ability to use it across so many functions and under a display essentially allows the company to place any of its sensors anywhere on the device itself -- leaving the entire front and almost any other external surface available for those interactions.