The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of twenty-one newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. The most surprising one of them all is one that snuck through the patent system until today. The newly granted patent, which has never been seen before, reveals a wireless remote control for a vehicle's steering wheel. At a time when local and federal laws are being drafted to enforce "hands free" operation of smartphones and other devices in vehicles, Apple's invention comes to the rescue to provide their customers with a sound solution. The design borrows from Apple's iPod clickwheel but with a new touch-sensitive design. Interesting enough is that one of the engineers working on this project was a principal designer at California's famous Frog Design.
Apple Granted Patent for In-Vehicle Remote Control
Being that Apple's patent apparently went through the patent application phase under the names of the inventors rather than under the assignee Apple, we'll treat the coverage of this granted patent as a patent application insofar as we'll cover the detailing much closer.
The Problem with Today's In-Vehicle iDevice Systems
Portable media devices have become ubiquitous. Several types of portable media devices are manufactured by various manufacturers. For example, Apple Inc. manufactures the iPod, iPhone, and iPad series of portable media devices.
With the growing popularity of portable media devices, various accessories are also being sold that interface with these portable media devices to provide addition functionality or convenience to a user for operating the portable media devices. One of the popular accessories currently being offered is an in-vehicle entertainment system that is configured to interface with a portable media device and allow the user/driver to control the portable media device using the controls of the in-vehicle entertainment system.
Some in-vehicle entertainment systems don't include the control functionality but rather only output information provided by the portable media player. In such in-vehicle entertainment systems, the user has to control the portable media player using the controls on the portable media player itself.
In both types of in-vehicle entertainment systems discussed above, the user (driver) has to take their eyes off the road in order to manipulate either the in-vehicle entertainment system controls or the controls on the portable media player. Such distraction can be dangerous and can lead to accidents.
Apple Introduces the Steering Wheel Remote Control
Apple's invention generally relates to remote controls. More specifically, certain embodiments of the present invention provide a steering wheel mountable wireless remote control for controlling a portable media player.
Apple's related patent figures noted below provide us with various views of a wireless remote control device configured to control a portable media device (PMD). The remote control device can include a base section. The base section can include electronic circuitry for controlling operations of the remote control device. For example, the electronic circuitry can detect an input from a user, interpret the input to detect a desired operation by the user, and transmit an appropriate signal to the PMD for performing the desired operation.
The remote control device can also include a faceplate that is rotatably mounted on top of the base section that very much resembles Apple's iPod clickwheel as noted above in patent FIG. 1A and in FIG. 2 below. The notable difference is that Apple states that the faceplate is touch-sensitive.
Apple's patent FIG. 3 noted above is a functional block diagram of remote control device 300 which can include a controller 302, touch sensors 306, a wireless transmitter 308 (Bluetooth and/or any other RF frequency transmitter), a power source 310, and an actuator 312.
About the Sensors
Multiple touch sensors can be associated with a sensory area on the faceplate. In some embodiments, a sensor arrangement including one or more touch sensors (not shown) can be coupled to the faceplate. The touch sensors can be configured to detect contact of an object such as a finger as well as the location and pressure being exerted on the surface of faceplate by the finger or other object. In some embodiments, the touch sensors can have a sensing mechanism based on capacitive sensing, resistive sensing, surface acoustic wave sensing, and/or the like. The touch sensors can also be based on pressure sensing such as strain gauges, force sensitive resistors, load cells, pressure plates, piezoelectric transducers or the like.
Apple states that the base section can have one or more clamping feet mounted to a bottom surface of the base section. The clamping feet can be mounted to the base section, e.g., using hinges. The clamping feet can be movable in various directions.
In some embodiments, the clamping feet can be moved laterally towards and away from each other along the bottom surface of the base section, e.g., by moving the hinges. The lateral motion can enable the clamping feet to accommodate steering wheels having different thicknesses. The clamping feet can also move in an arcuate orientation such that the ends of the clamping feet not attached to the base section can move closer or farther from each other. The arcuate motion can result in the remote control device clamping on to or unclamping from a steering wheel.
Apple's patent FIGS. 4A noted above illustrates a remote control device 400 which can include a base section 402, a faceplate 404, and one or more clamping feet 406. In patent FIG. 5, we can see that peripheral structure 550 and back face 502 can together define a chamber 551 that houses control circuitry 506 (e.g., controller 302 of FIG. 3) and the wireless transmitter 508. The faceplate can be rotatably coupled on top of the base section such that faceplate can be in electrical communication with the control circuitry and wireless transmitter at all times.
The Rotatable Faceplate
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted below illustrates a side view of the remote. In some embodiments, the faceplate can rotate (arrow 701) about an axis 718 that can be orthogonal to a center of a plane occupied by faceplate 704. Thus, the faceplate can be oriented in any manner along the rotational path regardless of the location of the remote control device on the steering wheel.
In Apple's patent FIGS. 8A and 8B we see how the faceplate can be rotated to orient the markings on the faceplate in any direction relative to the base section. In FIG. 8A, the "MENU" marking on faceplate 804 is oriented parallel to arrow N while in FIG. 8B, the "MENU" marking is oriented at an angle to arrow N. It is to be noted that the orientation of the base section and clamping feet, relative to arrow N, are the same in FIGS. 8A and 8B. In some embodiments, the faceplate can either be rotated in a clockwise direction or in an anticlockwise direction. In some embodiments, the faceplate can rotate through a 360 degree angle or more. In other embodiments, the rotation can be limited, e.g., to +-180 degrees from a centered starting position.
Apple notes that in some embodiments, the clamping feet and hinges can be made of a suitable metal such as aluminum; any other suitable material like plastic, composite materials, fiberglass, etc. can also be used.
Apple's patent FIGS. 9A and 9B noted above illustrate the arcuate motion of clamping feet 902 during a clamping and an unclamping operation, respectively. In order to either clamp or unclamp the remote control to or from the steering wheel, the clamping feet can move in an arcuate direction (arrow 922). Hinges 906 can enable the clamping feet to move in the arcuate direction.
Accommodating Varying Steering Wheel Thicknesses
Apple's patent FIGS. 10A and 10B noted below illustrate the remote control device accommodating steering wheels of two different thicknesses. The hinges 1004 can be located at either end of the track (1002) resulting in a maximum pitch between clamping feet 1010. In some embodiments, the lateral movement of hinges 1004 can be achieved in a purely mechanical manner. In patent FIG. 11 we see an illustration of a bottom view of the remote control.
Apple's patent FIG. 12 illustrates a bottom perspective of the remote control. Cover plate 1204 can provide access to the base section via opening 1202 for, e.g., installing a battery (or other power source) 1206 within the base section or replacing any components located in the base section.
Apple credits UI Design Manager Policarpo Wood and Anton Davydov who was a principal designer at Frog Design – a company responsible for the Apple IIc and NeXT workstation designs, as the inventors of this patent. Frog Design is mentioned several times in the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. The patent which was granted to Apple today was original filed in Q1 2011.
Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of granted patents with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each Granted Patent is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any Granted Patent should be read in its entirety for full details. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
Sites Covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, New York Times Bits Around the World, Twitter, Facebook, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, Aberto ate de Madrugada Spain, Macnews, iPhone World Canada, Drkot Czech Republic, Mac4Dummies Netherlands, Planet Geek Spain, MacWorld Netherlands, Apple News Feedroom, Real Clear Technology, Cult of Mac, 9to5 Mac, Business Insider, iPhone-in-Canada, iPhoneItalia Italy, CNET, MacDailyNews and Techmeme.
GottaBeMobile, iDownloadBlog, Wired, Blog Gazelle, Ubergizmo, iClarified, Mac Life Germany, iPhones Russia, Webwereld Netherlands, Guomii China, iPhoneclub Netherlands, Digital Trends, InfoRains, Pocket-lint UK, Compulenta Russia, CNET France, Huffington Post, CE Outlook, Geeky Gadgets, ZDNet Germany, iPhone Guide Denmark, Macworld Brazil, The Car Connection, Automoto Slovak Republic, DinSide Norway, Car and Driver, iCreate Netherlands, Techline Hungary, MotorAuthority, and more.
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