The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 40 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In this particular report we cover a real little shocker. In this granted patent Apple reveals that they've been working on display panel technology that integrates both touch and solar cells on a single panel since a little after launching their revolutionary iPhone. Apple's follow-up patent to this current one was published in 2010.
Apple Granted Patent for Integrated Touch Sensor & Solar Panel
Apple was granted a patent today for their invention relating to integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations that may be used on portable devices, particularly handheld portable devices such as a media player or phone.
According to Apple, the integrated touch sensor array and solar cell stack-ups may include electrodes that are used both for collecting solar energy and for sensing on a touch sensor array. By integrating both the touch sensors and the solar cell layers into the same stack-up, surface area on the portable device may be conserved.
The integrated touch sensor and solar panel may include electrodes that provide the same coverage as a typical solar panel electrode, but provides far more quadrants or pixels that may be used as touch sensors. The electrode terminals may be connected in parallel in order to draw power from the cell during a solar power cycle. The terminals may then be connected as separate quadrants during a touch sensor cycle. A multiplexer (MUX) may be used to selectively switch between power conversion circuitry and touch sensing circuitry during power and touch sensing cycles respectively.
In addition to being used for capacitive sensing, the integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations may also be used for optical sensing. Unlike the capacitive sensing, the optical sensing may be accomplished simultaneously with power production. Accordingly, optical sensing may be used to increase the amount of time that the solar panel is used to produce energy.
For example, the solar panel may operate in a solar power and optical sensing mode. When an approaching object, such as a finger, is detected the solar panel may switch to a capacitive sensing mode to more precisely locate the object. Alternatively, the solar panel may cycle between solar power/optical sensing mode and capacitive sensing mode. When no object is detected by optical sensing or capacitive sensing the number of capacitive cycles in a given time interval may be decreased to maximize the amount of time the solar panel is used to produce energy. When an approaching object is detected using either optical sensing or capacitive sensing, the number of capacitive sensing cycles in a given time period may be increased to provide better accuracy and response for the capacitive sensing.
About Apple's Patent Figures: FIG. 8 depicts a block diagram illustrating various functional modules. It includes one or more solar cells, one or more rechargeable batteries and a main operational module of the device; FIG. 10 illustrates a typical electrode configuration for a solar panel; FIG. 11 illustrates an electrode pattern including electrodes that may be used for an integrated solar panel and touch array; FIG. 12 illustrates an integrated solar panel and touch sensor stack-up; FIGS. 18a/b illustrate optical sensing and power production using a solar panel. In FIG. 18b an incoming object such as a user finger, blocks one or more electrodes of the solar panel. An algorithm may then be used to switch the device to a touch sensing mode that increases the number of touch sensing cycles in a given period. FIG. 20B is an exemplary handheld media player including an integrated touch sensor solar cell panel surface that substantially fills the front surface of the housing of media player.
Apple credits Michael Rosenblatt, Benjamin Lyon, John Filson, Steve Hotelling, Gordon Cameron and Cameron Frazier as the inventors of this granted patent which was originally filed in Q3 2008 under application number 12/242,723 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office. To review today's granted patent claims and details, see US Number.
For more on Apple's work on solar energy see our Green Technology Archives. Just last week we posted another green technology-based report titled "The Race is on for an iPad with Integrated Solar Panels & More." If Apple could get this type of innovation out to market in a timely manner it would certainly provide them with another wow-technology feature.
It's Granted Patent Day
Readers should be aware that every Tuesday the US Patent and Trademark Office publish Apple's Granted Patents. Granted patents are approved patent applications that Apple applied for months or even years ago. In the vast majority of cases, "granted patents" aren't covering any new kind of technology on the day the patent is being granted. New Apple technologies are generally revealed on Thursdays by the US Patent Office in the form of published patent applications. Some Mac sites confuse this process by making claims and presenting bylines on Tuesday that insinuate that Apple has just revealed a new technology or process. In 99% of cases, this is simply untrue and readers should be made aware of this fact. Known exceptions would include patents that were recently acquired by Apple or a domestic and/or foreign patent application that Apple had never presented in the US before under its own brand name.
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.
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