Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that revealed one of their coolest inventions ever published. It's a levitation system.
LG introduced an example of such a system this year at CES and was the talk of the show. They called it the "Levitating Portable Speaker." Reading about Apple's levitating system this morning gave me goosebumps. I kept saying, what the hell is this thing? It's not like I've ever seen one at the design level before.
So what will Apple's levitating system do? Well, we all know Apple for their secrecy – but they actually provided a few examples of applications. The coolest by far is a user placing their iPhone or Apple Watch over the levitator and turning it on. The unit will then levitate your iPhone as a sign that it's being wirelessly recharged. Users could set it to have their iDevice rotate, spin, tumble and more while recharging and even dance to your favorite iTunes music if that's entertaining to you and your friends.
Apple could also use it in their Stores to promote items as they levitate, rotate and who knows, maybe even have Siri talk to users staring at a new iPhone floating and bobbing within a given space. And that's just the beginning. For patent fans, this is mental feast to dive into.
Apple's patent application covers an all-new kind of invention representing a levitator system that includes a levitator with wire coils that produce a magnetic field when energized. The system may also include a magnetic-field-producing item--like a permanent magnet--that becomes levitated above the energized wire coils by the magnetic field when the magnetic-field-producing item is positioned above the energized wire coils as noted below in patent FIGS. 2 and 12 below.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates a levitation system which includes a computer noted as an example of item #100 levitated by levitator parts 200 and 300 which include a housing 202 and 302 containing components of levitator 200 and 300. The levitation system of FIG. 1 also includes an enclosure #400 surrounding the levitated item #100.
Apple notes that the "Levitator may emit a magnetic field (e.g., magnetic fields 372, 374, 376, and/or 378 as shown in patent FIG. 12 noted above to be exact). The item may be a magnetic-field-producing item that also emits a magnetic field (e.g., magnetic field 370 emitted by item magnet #110 that forms a part of or is otherwise fixed to item 100).
These magnetic fields may be generated by anything capable of generating a magnetic field, whether permanent or temporary (e.g., a permanent magnet or an electromagnetic coil such as a wire coil that produces a magnetic field when energized (i.e., when an electric current is passed through it)).
In some embodiments, the item magnet #110 is a permanent magnet. The magnetic field of levitator 200, 300 may be oriented in opposition to the magnetic field of the item thereby inducing a repulsive magnetic force between item #100 and levitator #200, #300. When the item is positioned above the levitator this repulsive force may overcome gravitational force to levitate the item above levitator #200, #300, as shown in FIG. 1.
Levitators #200, #300 may be high-powered levitators, capable of levitating heavy items at great distances. For example, overall power consumption of the levitator may be 15-25 kilowatts (kW) (e.g., 20 kW), and levitator may be capable of levitating a 4-5 kilogram item at a height above 50 millimeters at this power consumption.
The noted enclosure #400 may inhibit interference with the levitated item. The enclosure may be made of a clear material (e.g., acrylic), so that the item can be viewed through it. In some embodiments enclosure #400 isn't used.
Devices Levitate while being Wirelessly Charged
Apple notes that one application for a levitator could be to wirelessly charge devices like an iPhone, Apple Watch or "other device." While charging, the device is levitated above or within a levitation system as noted in patent figure 1 above.
Apple notes that "In some embodiments, levitator #200 and #300 may provide power wirelessly to levitated item #100," which they note as being an iDevice like an iPhone.
For example, magnetic fields generated by levitator #200 and #300 may induce current in an induction coil (or other structure capable of having a current induced therein) of item #100, which current may be used to power the item or elements thereof.
Using Levitation in Apple Stores
Another novelty application for a levitation system is for Apple Stores. Apple notes that the "levitator of the levitation system may include sensors that can detect the position (including orientation) and motion of the levitated item, and can adjust the position and motion of the levitated item based on its detected position.
Levitators as described may be used in a retail setting to display items for sale or display. Levitating an item may help bring attention to it and may present it to a consumer in a way that is easy to view and, in some cases, pick up and manipulate. By moving the item with the levitator, a retailer can further make it stand out to a customer (e.g., by bouncing or rotating it) and can better display all sides of the item to the customer
In some embodiments certain of the displayed items / Apple devices may be made to move by levitators in order to draw the attention of customers by moving the devices up-and-down, side-to-side, or rotating back-and-forth), bouncing, twirling, being raised (e.g., above others), being lowered (e.g., below others), being turned in a direction different from others, being turned toward a location (e.g., that of a control panel or customer)).
Mac Desktop Levitation Applications
In some embodiments, item #100 can be used as a mouse input for a computer, such that the motion of a cursor or other on-screen element is directed by motion of item 100. In some embodiments, the item or device can be used as a joystick or other virtual control (e.g., in a video game or computer-aided-design (CAD) program) to control motion of another item #100 or a virtual item (e.g., to manipulate a three-dimensional rendering of an object in a CAD or other program). In such embodiments, the other item #100 or virtual item may mimic the motion of item #100 moved by the user.
In some embodiments (e.g., where item #100 is used as a control or input for an outside system or device) item may provide tactile feedback to the user manipulating it. For example, resistance to motion may be increased as item #100 is moved farther from its default state (e.g., by increasing appropriate electromagnetic coils 310, 320, 330). Or such resistance may be a constant force opposing the change in position or rotation. In some embodiments, the item may pulse to provide a kind of haptic feedback as it is moved (e.g., rapid repeated increases and decreases in resistance to motion to evoke a buzzing, clicking, or vibrating feeling as the item is turned).
Other Levitation Controls by Music
According to Apple, a user may input parameters into a control panel of or connected to main the controller of the system to move a levitated item in any or all of the six degrees of freedom above the levitator. Also for example, a microphone or other audio input device may be connected to or part of the main controller and the position and/or motion of levitated item may be controlled (e.g., dynamically changed) based on the audio input received by the microphone or other audio input device.
For example, the levitated item may be made to "dance" to music sensed by the audio input device. It may oscillate, bounce, rotate, translate, tilt, etc. based on any or all of the melody, pitch, harmony, rhythm, tone, form, tempo, timbre, texture, and dynamics of sensed music or other audio input.
In some embodiments, a magnitude of change in motion of the levitated item may be proportional to a magnitude of an input (e.g., turning a dial on a control panel may cause the item to be raised a distance proportional to the amount the dial is turned; a louder sound or faster tempo may cause a greater change in movement than a quieter sound or slower tempo).
The spinning of the system of magnets could run hot and so Apple notes that the cooling system may use a substance other than air to effect such cooling such as water or liquid nitrogen.
Apple's patent application was filed back in Q3 2015. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time. One of inventors/engineers joined Apple from MIT Media Lab: Tangible Media Group
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