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Apple Patent hints that AirDrop will Adopt Millimeter Wave Antennas and Circuitry for Superior Performance & Security

1 Cover Millimeter wave antennas and circuitry for AirDrop


In July 2017 Patently Apple reported on the FCC approving a license for limited testing of Millimeter Wave technology. While Millimeter Wave technology is used in 5G networks and phones, Apple wouldn't have needed a special license for that. We also reported that year about a patent-pending next-gen wireless iPhone charging case that used millimeter wave technology.


Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that appears to be a possible AirDrop technology update or replacement that uses millimeter wave signals. The new system will provide a superior methodology for sharing data accurately and more securely.


Apple states that wireless electronic devices often communicate with other nearby wireless electronic devices. For example, a user may wirelessly share files with another nearby user over a short-range communications link such as Bluetooth or WiFi.


Sharing information wirelessly with nearby electronic devices can be cumbersome for a user. The user may not know when the device of another user is sufficiently close to establish a short-range wireless communications link.


There may be multiple devices within range, making it challenging to safely and easily establish a communications link with the desired device. For example, when a user is in a public environment with a large number of unfamiliar devices, the user may have difficulty finding and selecting the desired device with which he or she desires to communicate wirelessly.


Antennas are sometimes used to determine the location of other electronic devices, but the antennas in conventional electronic devices do not provide sufficient information to determine the location of other electronic devices without ambiguity.


Apple's invention covers an electronic device that may be provided with wireless circuitry. The wireless circuitry may include one or more antennas. The antennas may be configured to receive IEEE 802.15.4 ultra-wideband communications signals and/or millimeter wave signals. The antennas may also include wireless local area network antennas, satellite navigation system antennas, cellular telephone antennas, and other antennas.


Apple notes that in a crowded room where multiple wireless communications devices are close enough to establish a communications link, it may be desirable for the user to be better informed of which devices are near the user, where the devices are located relative to the user, and whether and with whom a communications link has been established. It may also be desirable for the user to have better and more intuitive control over which device the user shares information with, what information is shared, and when the information is communicated between the two devices.


In order to accomplish this, the electronic device may be provided with control circuitry and a display. The control circuitry may determine where nearby electronic devices are located relative to the electronic device. The display may produce images that indicate where the nearby device is located.


The control circuitry may determine when the electronic device is oriented in a particular way relative to a nearby device. In response to determining that the electronic device is arranged end-to-end or side-to-side with another device, for example, the control circuitry may use wireless transceiver circuitry to automatically exchange information with the electronic device or may automatically prompt the user to indicate whether the user would like to exchange information with the electronic device.


The control circuitry may determine the location of a nearby electronic device by calculating the angle of arrival of signals that are transmitted by the nearby electronic device. To obtain a complete, unambiguous angle of arrival solution, the electronic device may be moved into different positions during angle of arrival measurement operations.


At each position, the control circuitry may calculate a phase difference associated with the received signals. Motion sensor circuitry may gather motion data as the electronic device is moved into the different positions. The control circuitry may use the received antenna signals and the motion data to determine the complete angle of arrival solution.


Apple's patent FIG. 2 below is a schematic diagram of an illustrative electronic device with wireless communications circuitry and sensors illustrating both millimeter wave and Ultra-Wideband transceiver circuitry.


2 milllimeter wave transceiver circuitry  figs 2 & 6 Apple Patent  Patently Apple IP report oct 17  2019


Apple's patent FIG. 6 above is a perspective view of an illustrative array of millimeter wave antennas on a millimeter wave antenna array substrate.


More specifically, patent FIG. 6 above is a perspective view of an illustrative millimeter wave antenna array 48R formed from antenna resonating elements on millimeter wave antenna array substrate #134.


Array #48R may include an array of millimeter wave antennas such as patch antennas #48 formed from patch antenna resonating elements #48P and dipole antennas #48 formed from arms #48-1 and #48-2. With one illustrative configuration, the dipole antennas may be formed around the periphery of the substrate and patch antennas may form an array on the central surface of the substrate.


There may be any suitable number of millimeter wave antennas in array #48R. For example, there may be 10-40, 32, more than 5, more than 10, more than 20, more than 30, fewer than 50, or other suitable number of millimeter wave antennas (patch antennas and/or dipole antennas, etc.).


Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a perspective view of an iPhone with wireless communications circuitry and sensors; FIG. 11 is a diagram showing how angle of arrival solutions may be obtained when an electronic device is in a first position; FIG. 12 is a diagram showing how angle of arrival solutions may be obtained when an electronic device is in a second position in accordance with an embodiment.


3 Apple patent figs 1  11  15 & 16 -  millimeter antennas  AirDrop changing underlying technology


Apple's patent FIG. 15 above is a top view of an illustrative electronic device having a display that instructs a user to move an electronic device as control circuitry gathers motion data and antenna signals to determine an angle of arrival solution; FIG. 16 is a flow chart of illustrative steps involved in determining the position of a node relative to an electronic device using antenna signals and motion data.


Apple further notes that input-output devices may include movement generation circuitry. Movement generation circuitry may receive control signals from the control circuitry. Movement generation circuitry may include electromechanical actuator circuitry that, when driven, moves the device (iPhone etc) in one or more directions.


For example, the movement generation circuitry may laterally move the device and/or may rotate the device around one or more axes of rotation. Movement generation circuitry may, for example, include one or more actuators formed at one or more locations of the device. When driven by a motion control signal, actuators may move (e.g., vibrate, pulse, tilt, push, pull, rotate, etc.) to cause the device to move or rotate in one or more directions. The movement may be slight (e.g., not noticeable or barely noticeable to a user of the device), or the movement may be substantial.


As with most Apple patents, they don't want the technology limited to just an iPhone and therefore list other future devices that could include any of the following:   


"An embedded computer, a tablet computer, a cellular telephone, a media player, or other handheld or portable electronic device, a smaller device such as a wristwatch device, a pendant device, a headphone or earpiece device, a device embedded in eyeglasses or other equipment worn on a user's head, or other wearable or miniature device, a television, a computer display that does not contain an embedded computer, a gaming device, a navigation device, an embedded system such as a system in which electronic equipment with a display is mounted in a kiosk or automobile, equipment that implements the functionality of two or more of these devices, or other electronic equipment."


Apple's patent application 20190317177 that was published today by the U.S. Patent Office was filed back in Q2 2019 with initial work dating back a year. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.

Apple Inventors


Brent Ledvina: Location Software Manager

Robert Brumley: Wireless Technologies - Location/Motion Engineering Mgr.

Adam Meyer: Interaction Designer

Peter Tsoi: Prototyper iOS Performance Team.


10.51FX - Patent Application Bar

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