On July 24, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple titled "Liquid Activated Failsafe for Portable Computing Devices. Apple's invention generally relates to computing devices such as next generation MacBooks incorporating new failsafe mechanisms that are designed to prevent electrical shorts in the event that it comes in contact with any liquid.
Apple's Patent Background
During use of a portable computing device resting on a desk or other horizontal surface, the keyboard and I/O ports of the computing device can allow a spilled liquid to enter into the interior of the device. If some measure is not taken to prevent the spilled liquid from flowing through these openings, the liquid can reach system electronics including circuit boards, processors, drives, and the like that are critical to the operation of the computing device. When liquid reaches these components, an electrical short can be created, severely damaging the electronics.
One method of preventing spilled liquid from creating an electrical short can include sealing off openings in the keyboard and I/O ports from underlying system electronics or creating structures to divert spilled liquid from the openings to a location in the computer where the liquid will not cause an electrical short. However, these methods can be ineffective when large amounts of liquid are spilled. Moreover, the addition of seals and diverting structures can increase the cost, size, and weight of the portable computing device in which they are included. Another method of preventing spilled liquid from creating an electrical short involves placing one or more sensors within the computing device that can sense when liquid is present and cut power to the device. However, this method can result in unwanted losses of power. For instance, the sensors can be triggered by small amounts of liquid, moisture, or spills in non-critical areas. This can lead to an unnecessary loss of data when the computing device shuts down unnecessarily.
Therefore, what is desired is a way of sensing whether a particular spill is likely to cause damage to the system electronics of a portable computing device and causing the computer to take the best course of action depending on the amount and location of the spilled liquid.
Apple Invents new Liquid Sensor System
Apple's patent generally relates to portable computing devices such as notebook computers and more particularly to failsafe mechanisms designed to prevent electrical shorts in the event that a portable computing device comes in contact with a liquid.
Apple's invention covers various embodiments that relate to detecting and responding to the presence of liquids in a computing device. A computing device such as a MacBook can include a base housing with a number of openings for a keyboard, I/O ports, and other components. A plurality of liquid sensors can be placed near the openings in the base housing and configured to detect any liquid entering the computing device.
Furthermore, these liquid sensors can be connected to a controller that continuously monitors the readings from the liquid sensors and can send instructions to system electronics and a power supply. The controller can be configured to electrically decouple the system electronics from the power supply when a number of liquid sensors exceeding a moisture threshold exceeds a first limit.
In another embodiment, a method is described for detecting and responding to spilled liquids that enter a portable computing device. The method includes at least the following steps: (1) providing a plurality of liquid sensors near openings in a base housing of the computing device, (2) electrically coupling the liquid sensors to a controller, (3) monitoring each of the liquid sensors to detect when one or more of the sensors exceeds a moisture threshold, (4) determining whether the number of liquid sensors exceeding the moisture threshold exceeds a first limit, (5) determining whether the number of liquid sensors exceeding the moisture threshold exceeds a second limit, (6) in the event that the number of liquid sensors exceeding the moisture threshold exceeds the second limit, immediately decoupling any system electronics from a power supply, and (7) in the event that the number of liquid sensors exceeding the moisture threshold exceeds the first limit but not the second limit, saving any data that a user of the computing device is working with and performing a controlled shutdown of the computing device.
In yet another embodiment, a non-transient computer readable medium for storing computer code executable by a processor in a computer system capable of detecting and responding to the presence of liquids in a computing device is described. The non-transient computer readable medium contains at least the following: (1) computer code for monitoring each of a plurality of liquid sensors to detect when one or more of the liquid sensors exceeds a moisture threshold, (2) computer code for determining whether a number of liquid sensors exceeding the moisture threshold exceeds a first limit, (3) computer code for determining whether the number of liquid sensors exceeding the moisture threshold exceeds a second limit, (4) computer code for immediately decoupling any system electronics from a power supply in the event that the number of liquid sensors exceeding the moisture threshold exceeds the second limit, and (5) computer code for saving any data that a user of the computing device is working with and performing a controlled shutdown of the computing device in the event that the number of liquid sensors exceeding the moisture threshold exceeds the first limit but not the second limit.
Apple's new system could include a plurality of capacitive liquid sensors distributed throughout the computing device, system electronics, and a power supply. A controller is also provided and is electrically coupled to the liquid sensors, power supply, and system electronics. Furthermore, the controller is configured to electrically decouple the system electronics from the power supply when a number of liquid sensors exceeding a moisture threshold exceeds a first limit.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 below shows us a plan view of a base housing of a computing device, illustrating a representative array of liquid sensors.
In Apple's patent FIG. 8 shown below we're able to see a demonstrating yet another embodiment in which elements of the MacBook itself are used to sense the presence of liquids. The base housing #804 can be formed from a conductive material such as aluminum. Traces can be attached interior surfaces of the base housing and can allow the controller to monitor the capacitance of the base housing. A moisture threshold can be set to allow the controller to distinguish between major liquid spills and events that do not require the controller to take action, such as minor spills, moisture, and contact between a user's hands and the base housing.
For example, the region #808 noted in FIG. 8 can represent an area in which liquid comes in contact with base housing 804 during a major spill. The capacitance values generated by such a spill can cause the controller to take action by decoupling the system electronics from the power supply.
Apple's patent FIG. 10 below we see a flowchart detailing a process for detecting and responding to liquid spills.
Apple's patent FIG. 11 shown below is a flowchart detailing a process for limiting the ability of a user to reactivate a computing device following a liquid spill.
Apple credits Daniel Goodman and Paul Lazarescu as the inventors of patent application 20140203665 which was originally filed in Q1 2013. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
A Note for Tech Sites covering our Report: We ask tech sites covering our report to kindly limit the use of our graphics to one image. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation.
Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. About Making Comments on our Site: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit any comments. Comments are reviewed daily from 4am to 8pm MST and sporadically over the weekend.