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Apple invents new 'Shear Force' Sensors Designed to work with Future Devices of any Shape

Apple Invents New Cracked Cover Glass Sensors to Assist Apple Design Better Crack Resistant Glass and More



In 2015 Motorola had conducted a survey relating to cracked smartphone screens. The results found that 50 percent of people globally have experienced a cracked smartphone screen at least once. Interestingly enough the U.S. had the smallest overall percentage at 34 percent while India had the highest with 65 percent. Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals methods for detecting damage to a portable electronic device. More particularly, the present invention discussed the integration of a new sensor for detecting hairline cracks and alerting the user that actions were taken to shut down some aspects of the system for safety reasons. The new sensors will provide Apple with exacting feedback so that future displays could redesigned correctly to provide greater resistance to cracked glass due to accidental falls.


Coverglass Fracture Detection


In Apple's patent background they note that portable electronic devices are generally built to withstand any number of stresses and strains caused by daily use. Due to the portable nature of these devices, the portable electronic devices are likely to be subjected to drops and impacts of varying severities.


While various ways of reinforcing and strengthening these devices to account for these types of events have been developed, certain portions of the devices can still remain quite susceptible to breakage and/or degradation.


In particular, the display cover or coverglass portion of a portable electronic device can be an area in which damage is likely when the portable electronic device is dropped or subjected to a high impact force. Forces acting upon the coverglass can cause any number of different types of breaks and/or cracks to occur in the coverglass.


Unfortunately, device designers are often unable to get much data about how and in what circumstances a coverglass component is most likely to break. For this reason, the device designers do not always have the data necessary to add features to the device that can help to mitigate coverglass breakage in common fall scenarios.


Apple's invention relates to methods and apparatus for detecting the creation of cracks in a display cover of the portable electronic device and for modifying behavior of the portable electronic device in response to the detection.


Apple notes that even though coverglass technology has enjoyed rapid development leading to increasingly durable glass and plastic materials, the coverglass component continues to be one of the most likely components at which a device receives substantial damage when the device is subjected to externally applied forces.


One way to help to mitigate problems associated with breakage or damage to the coverglass is to develop a new sensor or adapt an existing sensor for detecting incidents of coverglass breakage. In some embodiments, sensors within the device can be configured to detect any fracture or cracks propagating through the coverglass.


Sensors suitable for detection of coverglass breakage can include a touch sensor when the touch sensor is in direct contact with an interior facing surface of the coverglass. Such a configuration can allow for precise determination of a position of any cracks propagating through the coverglass, since any cracks propagating through the coverglass may also separate portions of a sensor grid of the touch sensor.


In some embodiments, orientation sensors within the device can be used to generate alerts that direct the device to initiate a scan of the sensors associated with the breakage detection system to determine the following: (1) whether or not there had been a breakage; and (2) how severe any detected fractures had been. For example, when the accelerometer or other spatial/orientation detection sensors detect a deceleration of the device consistent with a fall, those sensors could send a message to the processor. In response to the message, the processor could then initiate a sensor scan for cracks in the display cover. In many embodiments, detection of a crack can be assumed when a significant change in readings from the crack detection system occurs. In some embodiments, data stored within the device can be used to correlate the changes in readings with likely positions of cracks in the display cover.


Once the cracks are detected, any number of actions can be subsequently performed by the device. In some embodiments, a simple message could be sent to a user of the device, informing the user the display glass has been broken. This notification could be very beneficial in cases of a hairline crack where a user might not even realize the presence of a crack.


In some embodiments, diagnostic data describing the conditions before and after formation of the crack could be sent to a manufacturer of the device to help optimize future devices so that they are better adapted to resist display cover cracking.


In some embodiments, a more detailed message could be sent to a user of the device informing them of any sensors or systems that would be affected or disabled due to cracking of the display cover.


In some embodiments, a user can be asked to confirm a location at which a crack or fracture of the display cover had occurred. Confirmation of the crack could include for example asking the user to confirm a crack location highlighted by a display of the device or asking the user to circle or otherwise indicate a crack location with a touch input.



Apple's patent FIG. 5 noted above shows another way in which cracks or fractures forming in display cover #102 can be characterized. An array of contact points CP1-CP6 can be distributed across the display cover as depicted. Each of the contact points can be configured to measure a resistance of the display cover between contact points. A change in resistance between the contact points can be indicative of crack formation between the contact points. For example, when a fracture or crack #502 runs through the direct path between each of the contact points, represented by the dotted lines the electrical resistance can change. This change in resistance can be detected and interpreted by a processor as a signal by receiving the various signals and determining which contact points do or do not experience changed resistances a location of the crack can at least be approximated. For example, because resistance between CP1, CP2 and CP3 the crack is not running through an upper portion of display cover 102. By adding a larger numbers of contact points characterization of the crack can be accomplished with greater precision.


While the contact points are distributed in both active and masked portions of the display cover it should be appreciated that the contact points can be arranged entirely within the masked portions or the active portions.


It should be understood that feedback from each of the contact points can be communicated to additional circuitry disposed on for example a printed circuit board below the display cover by way of a flexible circuit extending from a connector or connection point on the display cover and a connector on the printed circuit board.


Apple's patent application 20170045915 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.


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