The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of ten newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. The notable that stands out amongst all is Apple's first solar powered portable device patent. The patent pertains to all portables from MacBooks to the iPhone. The patent presents methods of adding solar power into the power mix of portables via a voltage converter. This is Apple's fourth solar powered patent and is now seen as a bona fide emerging trend for future portables.
Handheld computing devices typically use standard battery chemistries including ni-cad, lithium-ion, and nickel-metal hydride. In order to recharge these batteries, operators may use standard recharging options such as, for example, conventional AC (alternating current) outlets. However, mobile users who are in remote locations oftentimes do not have access to conventional AC outlets. As a result, they oftentimes have no way of recharging the batteries of their handheld computing devices.
Recently, solar power has been used to power up a handheld device. As demands for the power of the handheld computing devices increase, it becomes more important to provide stable power to the devices. However, given the characteristics of the solar cells that provide solar power, it is relatively difficult to track the solar power drawn from the solar cells to maintain relatively stable solar power output.
In addition, a conventional portable device or handheld device typically includes a battery and an AC adaptor for charging the battery. Certain handheld devices, such as a calculator, include a solar panel to generate solar power to activate the device. However, such a device does not normally include other power sources to charge the battery. Sometimes the solar power source or AC outlet may not be conveniently available. In such circumstances, a device limited to one charging method may not function properly.
Apple's solution includes techniques for operating devices with solar power. In one aspect of the invention, apparatus for operating a portable electronic device with solar power includes, but is not limited to, a voltage converter and a controller coupled to the voltage converter. The voltage converter includes an input capable of being coupled to a solar power source and an output capable of being coupled to an electronic load, such as, for example, a portable electronic device. The voltage converter is configured to monitor or detect an amount of power drawn by the electronic load at the output of the voltage converter. In response to the monitored power drawn, the controller is configured to control the voltage converter to adjust further output power provided to the electronic load. As a result, the output voltage from the solar power source is maintained within a predetermined range.
According to another aspect of the invention, a portable electronic device includes, but is not limited to, a processor, a memory coupled to the processor for storing instructions, when executed from the memory, cause the processor to perform one or more functions, a battery coupled to provide power to the processor and the memory, and a battery charging manager coupled to charge the battery using power derived from a plurality of power sources including a solar power source.
Schematics for Operating a Device with Solar Power
Apple's patent FIGS. 4A and 4B are schematic diagrams illustrating systems for operating an electronic device with solar power
Examples of Portable Devices with Various Power Source Interfaces
Apple's patent FIGS. 8A and 8D are block diagrams illustrating examples of portable electronic devices having a power interface for various power sources; In patent FIG. 9, we see a flow diagram illustrating an example of a process for interfacing a portable device with a variety of power sources.
Apple credits Wendell Sander and Daniel Warren for granted patent 7,868,582 originally filed in Q1 2009. It should be noted that this particular patent was likely filed under another name originally, such as an engineers name, as it didn't go through the application phase as an Apple patent. This is a method used to fly under radar so as to keep a technology or process as secretive as possible.
Other Granted Patents Published Today
Apple, One of Top 50 Companies Filing Patents in 2010: First and foremost, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Apple was granted 563 patents in 2010 which landed them in the top fifty companies with new inventions. IBM was listed as number one with 5,896 or more than ten-times what Apple was granted: Yikes!
H.264 AVC Video Related: Apple has been granted patent 7,869,503 for "Rate and Quality Controller for H.264/AVC Video Coder and Scene Analyzer Thereof." This has been long in waiting, as the patent was originally filed in Q2 2004. The patent relates to encoding video signals, and more particularly, encoding of video allowing control of bitrate to meet a target while ensureing that good video quality will result when the encoded stream is decoded. If video technology is your field of expertise, you may find this of interest as it is a very detailed patent.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application and/or Granted Patent is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application and/or Issued Patent should be read in its entirety for further details. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
Community Sites Covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, MacDailyNews, Fast Company, TechRadar, MacGeneration France, Le Blog iPhone France, PCWorld, Network World, NU Netherlands, Macworld UK (+ Macworld US), Techline Hungary, Ispazio Italy, IT Times Germany, Macity Italy, Mac Magazine Italy, Texas Institute (Research), Informationweek,The Daily Energy Report, PC Magazine, TechCrunch, CNN (Ali Velshi Video Link), and more.
January 13: CNN's Stacey Cowley's report (see Video Link, above) framed it well. It will take a while for Apple to implement solar technology into portables because they'll do it right. Some inventions, like Apple's solar power implementations, will take time to come to market and it shouldn't be expected to be on Apple's 2011 roadmap. Patents shouldn't be digested as "rumors" and shouldn't be fast-tracked on rumor time tables. Apple's patents represent research that could lead to future products and should be understood in that light.