Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to a possible next-gen Apple Pencil using ultrasonic transducers to better capture a user's movement precision that no doubt will be appreciated by artists, architects and even mad scribblers.
Apple notes that styli have become popular input devices for touch-sensitive devices. In particular, use of an active stylus capable of generating stylus stimulation signals that can be sensed by the touch-sensitive device can improve the precision and control of the stylus.
In some instances it may be desirable for input devices, such as styli, to be able to transfer data, in addition to a stimulation signal used to identify touch location, to the touch screen. For example, data from the input devices (such as touch, force, orientation, tilt, or the like) may be communicated to the touch screen, which may use that data to change an output of the display or perform some other operation.
Apple's invention will be able to advance a next generation of Apple Pencil by outfitting it with one or more ultrasonic transducers configured to determine the location of one or more objects in contact with the input device; to communicate to the display more accurately what Apple Pencil will be performing in terms of force, orientation, tilt and more. The accuracy of Apple Pencil movements and execution provide the user a more natural feel closer to pen and paper.
In some examples, Apple Pencil could include an array of ultrasonic transducers in rows along the length of the input device. In this configuration, the location along the length of the input device of an object touching the input device can be determined based on which ultrasonic transducer(s) detect(s) the object.
In some examples, the ultrasonic transducers can also be used to determine the position around the circumference of the Apple Pencil.
In some examples, one or more ultrasonic transducers can be disposed at one end of Apple Pencil. In some examples, multiple ultrasonic transducers disposed in a ring around one end of Apple Pencil can determine the position of the touching object both along the length of the input device and around the circumference of the input device (i.e., in two dimensions).
Apple's patent FIG. 6A above illustrates a next generation Apple Pencil #600 outfitted with a plurality of ultrasonic transducers #610. Each ultrasonic transducer can be configured to transmit and receive ultrasonic waves and in FIG. 6A they're arranged in a plurality of rows #614.
For ease of description, area #680 of the Apple Pencil shaft will be able to be "unrolled" as shown in a first unrolled area #682 and second unrolled area #684 above. As shown in the first unrolled area #682, the ultrasonic transducers can operate in a "pitch-catch" and "pulse-echo" modes. A user's forefinger and thumb could run across these transducers to perform certain functions or actions.
Apple's patent is highly technical yet never explains what functions and/or actions these ultrasonic transducers when touched will be able to perform on Apple Pencil. At times is seems it's really about capturing precise moments more than secret features.
Apple Pencil for iPhone
Once again Apple associates a future Apple Pencil being able to work with a future iPhone. Apple notes that "the tip of the stylus (Apple Pencil) can include an electrode configured to emit a stimulation signal to be detected by a separate touch-sensitive device (e.g., mobile telephone, digital media player, personal computer, tablet computing device, wearable computing device, etc.).
Apple's patent FIG. 7 below illustrates an exemplary cross-section of a stylus outfitted with a plurality of ultrasonic transducers detecting touch.
Apple's patent FIG. 10A above illustrates an exemplary stylus including ultrasonic transducers disposed in a ring formation at an end of the stylus configured to perform a "passive search" ; FIG. 10B illustrates an exemplary stylus including ultrasonic transducers disposed in a ring formation at an end of the stylus configured to perform an "active search." A "passive" search measures movements on the length of Apple Pencil while an "active" search measures movement on the circumference of Apple Pencil.
Apple's patent application was originally filed back in Q1 2018. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Our cover graphic uses Apple's patent fig. 6A and FIG. 8 which represents a cross-section of Apple Pencil which includes ultrasonic transducers and barriers which could be inside or outside of Apple Pencil. If outside, Apple notes that it could mean etching barriers around the circumference of Apple Pencil. That may be used to signal to the user where their fingers should be and not cross as if it's a particular zone on Apple Pencil.
Apple's Engineers / Inventors
It's always interesting to see what kind of engineers Apple has chosen for a particular project like this. Below are the inventors of today's published patent application.
Ehsan Khajeh: Sensing & Hardware Engineer, design of ultrasonic sensing systems; Aaron Scott Tucker: Electrical Hardware Designer, Advanced Sensing Technology Systems; Marduke Yousefpor: Senior Technologist working on new concepts & Emerging Technologies such as wave optics and ultrasonic analysis; Marcus Yip: Sensing System Engineer, development of next-generation sensing systems; Mohammad Yeke Yazdandoost: Senior Sensing Systems Architect; Brian King: Senior Technologist; and Wez Zuber: Touch and Sensing Incubation Engineer.
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