Today the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a radical idea for iDevices, though it's really a twist to an old idea. Apple has invented a method and key-like device designed to recharge an iDevice based on rotating a magnetically attractable element (key) that charges a device. In another embodiment, the external magnet may wind a spring inside a device. It works much like an old fashioned watch powered the action of a mechanical crown. On one hand it would be great for when you need power but aren't near an outlet. Yet in the bigger picture, you have to wonder if this is an idea for creating a line of Apple iDevices for emerging markets like Africa or India where power is difficult to find. This kind of idea was used in laptops invented by MIT for the One Laptop per Child program where a crank was supplied to recharge the devices as noted below.
Apple's Patent Background
Electronic devices (phones, audio devices, laptops, calculators, etc.) and some mechanical devices (watches, windup toys, etc.) require cyclical charging or winding. Winding a mechanical device generally requires winding a dial on an outer peripheral portion of the mechanical device. The dial is connected to a rotor shaft which may, for example, wind a spring. Winding is generally done by a user manually exerting a rotational force on the dial. This may be an inefficient method and also may be an unnecessary use of the user's energy.
Charging an electronic device generally requires connecting the electronic device to an external power source in order to draw current into, for example, a component of the electronic device. A port electrically connected to the component may receive a jack that is electrically connected to the external power source. This may require additional space and/or several components in the electronic device associated with charging. This may also limit the ability to reduce the overall footprint of the device, particularly in a portable electronic device where it may be desirable to create a relatively small device.
In addition, the enclosure may include an aperture in which the port is disposed. The aperture allows ingress of dust, liquid, or other contaminants to penetrate the electronic device and cause damage. It may also prevent creating a waterproof device. Therefore, it may be desirable to charge or wind a component without direct contact between two structures.
Apple's Invention: Connector-Free Magnetic Charger/Winder
Apple's invention generally relates to a method and apparatus for charging an electronic device include rotating a magnetically attractable element, or element, within the electronic device. Rotating a magnet external to the electronic device simultaneously rotates the element. Rotating the element causes an electrically generating device, such as a generator, to create an electric charge in the electronic device. The electric charge may be used to power the electrically generating device, or the electric charge may be transmitted to an internal power supply in order to charge another component or components. In another embodiment, the external magnet may wind a spring inside a device.
Apple's invention presents a method of charging or winding a device using a rotational magnetic field. In particular, a component within the device may be rotated by a magnetic field generated externally with respect to the device. The device may include a rotor coupled to an electric generator. The rotational magnetic field causes the rotor to rotate within the electric generator allowing the electric generator to create electrical energy which may be stored by an internal power supply or transmitted to another component within the device. In another device, a rotational magnetic field may also rotate a spring disposed within the device. The spring may be a torsion spring and the device may be a timepiece. Rotating the torsional spring corresponds to actuating components within the timepiece so the timepiece may monitor time.
The rotational magnetic field may be associated with a charging or winding station external to the device. The winding or charging station may be configured to spin a "master" rotor. The master rotor is an external drive mechanism magnetically coupled with a "slave" rotor, that is, the rotor within the device. The slave rotor is associated with an internal drive mechanism configured to wind or charge the device.
The slave rotor may be made from a partially ferrous material such as such as iron, nickel, or steel (including 304 and 400 series stainless steel). The slave rotor may also be a magnet. In all embodiments, it is important that a magnetic circuit be closed at least momentarily such that the master rotor may rotate the slave. In some embodiments, the master rotor may be a non-ferrous conductive metal wrapped in a conductive wire. A current passing through the conductive wire may create eddy current forces that are used to couple the master rotor to the slave rotor.
Apple's patent FIG. 11 shows us an embodiment of an iPhone having an internal vibrational motor being actuated by an external magnet.
Apple's patent FIG. 14 show us an embodiment of a timepiece having an spring being actuated by an external magnet; FIG. 16 illustrates an embodiment of a clutch assembly configured to limit torque to a component in an electronic device.
Later in the patent filing Apple states that rapid charging of an internal power supply may be useful to reduce charging time. Also, some devices may include additional components which may then require additional charging time. For example, a tablet computing device may require additional charging time as compared a mobile device. By rotating a generator in the tablet computing device at a higher speed, the tablet computing device may be able to charge (or recharge) in the same amount of time as the mobile device (phone).
Apple patent application 20150311741 was originally filed in Q2 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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