Apple won a pair of Smart Fabric patents today that may one day apply to smart clothing, wearables, vehicle fabrics & more
Smart fabrics will one day play an important role in future Apple wearables like headphones or a VR Headset, smart clothing, vehicle fabrics, device cases and/or bags and more. As of this morning Patently had 40 smart fabric patent reports on record in our archives. Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a new pair of granted patents detailing the makeup of future smart fabrics.
Fabric-Based Items with Electrical Component Arrays
It may be desirable to form furniture, clothing, and other items from materials such as fabric. Fabric-based items generally do not include electrical components. It may be desirable, however, to incorporate electrical components into a fabric-based item to provide a user of a fabric-based item with enhanced functionality.
It can be challenging to incorporate electrical components into a fabric-based item. Fabric is flexible, so it can be difficult to mount structures to fabric. Electrical components must be coupled to signal paths, but unless care is taken, signal paths will be damaged as fabric is bent and stretched.
It would therefore be desirable to be able to provide improved techniques for incorporating electrical components into fabric-based items.
Apple's granted patent covers a fabric-based item that may include electrical components. A fabric-based item may, for example, have an array of electrical components and one or more layers of fabric. Fabric layers may serve as substrates for electrical components or may be coupled to support structures on which electrical components have been mounted.
The electrical components may be mounted to a support structure such as a flexible printed circuit. The flexible printed circuit may have a mesh pattern formed from an array of openings. Serpentine flexible printed circuit segments may extend between the openings and may interconnect portions of the flexible printed circuit to which the electrical components have been soldered.
The electrical components may be light-emitting diodes or other electrical devices. Polymer with light-scattering particles or other materials may cover the electrical components. The flexible printed circuit and array of components may be laminated between fabric layers or other layers of material.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a schematic diagram of an illustrative smart fabric-based item; FIG. 10 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative fabric layer showing how a conductive strand of material such as a conductive yarn may be selectively brought to the surface of the fabric layer and used to form a contact such as a solder pad for coupling to an electrical component.
Apple's patent FIG. 17 above is an exploded perspective view of an illustrative mesh-shaped (mesh-patterned) flexible substrate populated with an array of electrical components and associated layer of material such as a fabric layer or other flexible layer with mating contact pads.
For more details, review Apple's granted patent 11,183,459.
Fabric Items having Strands of Adjustable Appearance
Apple notes in their patent background that It may be desirable to form bags, furniture, clothing, wearable electronic devices, and other items from materials such as fabric. However, fabric-based items may not include visual output devices to provide a user with visual information or may include visual output devices that are unattractive, bulky, and heavy.
Apple's granted patent covers smart fabrics and more specifically, a fabric-based item that includes fabric formed from intertwined strands of material such as intertwined strands of tubing and other strands of material. The appearance of portions of the fabric can be adjusted using control circuitry in the fabric-based item.
The strands of material may include tubing with electrophoretic ink formed from charged nanoparticles of different colors. Electric fields can be applied to the electrophoretic ink using the control circuitry to change the appearance of the fabric.
Charged nanoparticles and fluid may be contained within strands of tubing or may be enclosed within encapsulation structures such as encapsulation spheres. Encapsulation spheres or other encapsulation structures may be embedded in clear polymer binder within tubing or other structures in the fabric. Electric fields can be applied in a given area of the fabric using conductive strands that overlap the area, using conductive electrodes such as transparent conductive electrodes on strands of tubing, using coaxial electrodes, or using other electrode structures.
Apple's patent FIG. 11 below illustrates a side view of illustrative fabric having electrode layers for applying control signals to electrophoretic ink structures contained in strands of tubing in the fabric.
The spheres or other encapsulation structures noted above that contain electrophoretic ink may sometimes be referred to as Janus particles. Janus particles may be incorporated into strands of tubing in fabric #12.
For more details, review Apple's granted patent 11,180,871.