On October 31, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new power management system that will work with both a power adapter and seamlessly with a portable solar panel accessory for busy people on the go. Apple's engineers are thinking big with their on-site solar power now creating the energy equivalent to powering 17,600 homes a year. The experience that Apple's engineers are gaining with working with solar panels is filtering through to creating a power management system for future Macs and iDevices. Apple has already been granted seven solar power patents thus far and you could review most of them in our Green Technology Archives. Today's patent goes one step further than most by introducing us to a solar power panel accessory for mobile devices like a MacBook or iPhone that won't require a power converter. Apple's system may be closer to reality than first thought considering that Apple's senior power design engineer noted as the inventor of this system has been snatched by Samsung within the last year.
Apple Invents Portable Solar Panel Accessory for Recharging Devices on the Go
Apple's patent filing states that in the absence of the power adapter and/or mains electricity, the portable electronic device may be powered by the battery until the battery is fully discharged. Because the battery has a limited runtime, operation of the portable electronic device may generally be dependent on the availability of mains electricity. Hence, use of portable electronic devices may be facilitated by improving access to power sources for the portable electronic devices.
Apple's invention relates to providing a power management system that supplies power to components in an electronic device. The power management system includes a system microcontroller (SMC) and a charger. The electronic devices that will be able to take advantage of Apple's new solar panel include a MacBook, iPad, iPod touch and iPhone.
During operation, the power management system accepts power from at least one of a power adapter and a solar panel. Next, the power management system supplies the power to components in the electronic device without using a converter circuit between the solar panel and the power management system.
In some embodiments, using the power management system to supply the power to the components involves tracking a maximum power point of the solar panel.
In some embodiments, tracking the maximum power point of the solar panel involves measuring one or more output powers associated with at least one of the solar panel and the power management system, and adjusting an input voltage of the power management system based on the one or more output powers. For example, the input voltage may be adjusted based on the output power(s) using a perturb-and-observe technique and/or an incremental conductance technique.
As noted in Apple's patent FIG. 1, a MacBook Pro includes functionality to accept power from a solar panel 106 in lieu of and/or in addition to power from power adapter 104.
Like a power adapter, a solar panel may connect to the MacBook Pro via a USB connector, MagSafe connector, and/or other power connector. Electricity from the solar panel may then be used to charge the battery and/or power the components of the MacBook Pro or other electronic device.
In addition, a power management system in the electronic device may be configured to accept power from a solar panel without using a converter circuit between the solar panel and the power management system. In other words, the power management system may operate within the electronic device to convert power from the solar panel into a voltage, current, and/or form that are compatible with the battery and/or components of the electronic device.
According to Apple, the solar panel may operate as a power source to an electronic device without requiring an additional converter circuit between the solar panel and the power management system. Instead, existing parts of the power management system (e.g., charger or system microcontroller) may be modified to convert power from the solar panel and perform Maximum Point Power Tracking (MPPT) on the power. In turn, the power management system may represent a size and/or weight savings over conventional power management systems.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 noted above presents us with a flowchart illustrating the process of tracking a maximum power point of a solar panel in accordance to their invention.
Apple's patent FIG. 4 noted below shows us an overview of a power management system for supplying power to components in an electronic device.
Apple credits Kisun Lee, Manisha Pandya and Shimon Elkayam as the inventors of patent application 20130290743 which was originally filed in Q3 2012. For engineers and geeks who like to delve into this kind of technology could also view another kind of power management system patent that was published today. Apple's "Power Management for a system having non-volatile memory" patent could be found here.
As always, count on Samsung being in this new race related to solar power. And with Apple's engineer defecting to Samsung in the last year, the race could certainly be a heated one. Who will win this race to market? Only time will tell.
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