Apple Invents a Way to use Added Solar Cells to Power Devices
Keeping our MacBooks and other devices charged is always a priority and Apple has a new invention that could use solar cells integrated into trackpads, the Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, Apple's wireless keyboard and into parts of the iPhone that could provide added stored power. Apple notes that "the wireless device has a touch sensor and a solar cell that converts ambient light into electrical power. Wireless communications circuitry transmits the touch input to the external equipment using the electrical power from the solar cell. Energy storage devices such as a capacitor and a battery can be charged using the electrical power." Solar Cell ambient light sensors for the iPhone were covered much deeper in our June 2014 patent report that you could review here. To date Apple has more than 16 inventions relating to solar power aimed at future Apple computers/devices.
Apple's Patent Background
Computers and other electronic devices are often controlled using input-output devices such as keyboards, mice, and track pads. These devices are often provided with wireless circuitry that allows the devices to be operated without being connected to a host by cable. The ability to wirelessly communicate with external equipment allows wireless input-output devices to be freely moved around by a user without worrying about cable length restrictions, cable tangles, and other inconveniences associated with using wired input-output devices.
Unfortunately, wireless input-output device are not able to receive power through a permanent wired connection. This creates a need for an alternate source of power. Disposable and rechargeable batteries are possible power sources for wireless input-output devices, but can be inconvenient to use. Rechargeable batteries use battery charging equipment that may be misplaced or may otherwise be inaccessible when batteries become depleted. Disposable batteries that have become depleted must be removed from the wireless input-output device and replaced with fresh disposable batteries, but fresh disposable batteries are not always available.
It would therefore be desirable to be able to provide improved wireless electronic devices such as wireless input-output devices for controlling external electronic equipment.
Apple Invents Wireless Devices with Touch Sensors and Solar Cells
A wireless input-output device may gather touch input from a user. The touch input may be wirelessly transmitted to external wireless equipment such as a computer. The wireless device may be a track pad, a touch sensitive computer mouse, a keyboard with an integrated trace pad, or other wireless accessory.
The wireless device may have a touch sensor that gathers user touch input and a solar cell that converts ambient light into electrical power. Wireless communications circuitry in the wireless device may transmit the touch input to the external equipment.
A power regulator may be used to supply the electrical power from the solar cell to the wireless communications circuitry and to the touch sensor. Energy storage devices such as a capacitor and a battery may be used to store electrical energy using the electrical power from the solar cell.
The wireless device may have a transparent cover layer. The touch sensor may be a transparent touch sensor that is located between the cover layer and the solar cell or the solar cell may be a transparent solar cell that is located between the transparent cover layer and the touch sensor.
The touch sensor may have a shape such as a rectangular shape that is surrounded by a border region. The solar cell may overlap a touch sensor with this type of configuration or may be located in the border region.
In Apple's patent FIG. 1 we're able to see a power circuitry #34 that may include a light-based source of power such as solar cell #36. Solar cell 36 (sometimes also referred to as a photovoltaic cell or light-based power source) may be based on inorganic semiconductors (e.g., crystalline silicon, polysilicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, gallium arsenide, etc.), organic semiconductors (e.g., polymers such as polyphenylene vinylene), or other suitable materials.
During operation, the solar cell is exposed to ambient light and converts the ambient light to electrical power. The electrical power from the solar cell may be stored in one or more energy storage devices #44 such as a battery or capacitor.
The power regulator #38 may be used in regulating the flow of power from the solar cell to the energy storage circuitry and in regulating the flow of power to the circuitry of the device from the solar cell and from the energy storage devices. For example, the power regulator may provide electrical power from the solar cell to the storage device and/or other components in the device such as touch sensor #28 and the wireless communications circuitry and other circuitry #40 and may be used in providing electrical power from the storage device to circuitry such as a touch sensor and wireless communications circuitry and other circuitry.
Apple's patent FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative wireless track pad of the type that may be powered using a solar cell.
Apple's patent FIG. 19 noted above is a perspective view of an illustrative wireless input-output device such as a track pad for a MacBook; FIG. 20 is a cross-sectional side view of illustrative layers in a wireless input-output device with a touch sensor that is surrounded by an inactive border region containing a solar cell such as the input-output device of FIG. 19.
Apple credits Matthew Lang as the sole inventor of patent application 20150199062 which was originally filed in Q1 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Apple has more than 16 inventions relating to solar power being used in future computers/iDevices and because of that Patently Apple has just opened a new Solar Energy Archive.
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