Apple wins a Patent that reveals possible Future Side-of-Device Input Surfaces for easy UI Scrolling and more
Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent that primarily relates to a user in the future being able to scroll a webpage or document down the side of a future iPhone or iPad instead of scrolling the face of the display where fingerprints are collected.
Side Device Input Surface with Distributed Force & Touch Sensors
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) officially published a granted patent covering force and touch sensors that use self-mixing interferometry of laser diodes to detect force or touch on input surfaces such as the side of an iPhone or for force touch on a display with an Apple Pencil. The force or touch inputs may be detected at multiple points on the surface or display by using a waveguide to direct the light emitted by the laser diodes.
Apple's granted patent covers devices, methods, and systems--and electronic devices having them--that can detect a press, touch, or other input on input surfaces, such as the side of a device like an iPhone and display surface that Apple Pencil will be able to work with. The invention could also be used on other devices like MacBooks or the iMac.
The devices, methods, and systems may include an optical waveguide, positioned on or adjacent to the input surface, into which a laser diode inserts light. The light may be inserted and undergo total internal reflections as it traverses the length of the optical waveguide until, in some embodiments, it reflects from a full or partial reflector at an end of the optical waveguide, the end being at a known distance from the insertion location of the light (e.g., from the diode). In the absence of a user's touch on the input surface, the inserted light that is reflected from the reflector may be received back into the lasing cavity of the laser diode to cause self-mixing interference of the light existing within the laser cavity and the reflected light.
The user's finger shown in patent FIG. 1A below can also provide a scroll input across the sensing locations 106a-106n that detect the position and speed of the user's finger (or other input device) along the sensing locations 106a-106n using a set of light-based sensors; FIG. 1B illustrates a display input surface on an electronic device that could accommodate Apple Pencil input.
This is Apple’s second granted patent for this invention wherein they’ve added 20 new patent claims to better protect the invention from competitors, patent trolls and copycats. In Apple’s first granted patent, the claims were entirely about “the electronic device.” In today’s granted patent, Apple’s patent claims cover: 1) “A Self-Mixing Sensing System,” (8 claims); (2) more on “An Electronic Device” (8 claims); and (3) “The Method” (4 claims). Below is just the first all-new patent claim for Apple’s invention:
First New Patent Claim: “A self-mixing interference sensing system, comprising: a deformable input surface; an optical waveguide positioned beneath the deformable input surface and having: a set of distinct sensing locations on the deformable input surface; and a reflector defining an end of the optical waveguide; a light source configured to emit light into the optical waveguide, the reflector defining a first feedback cavity having a first length and reflecting the emitted light toward and into the light source in an absence of any input to any sensing location of the set of distinct sensing locations; and processing electronics operably coupled with the light source, wherein: an input applied to a sensing location of the set of distinct sensing locations deforms the deformable input surface and causes at least a portion of the emitted light to reflect toward and into the light source without reflecting from the reflector, the deformation of the deformable input surface defining a second feedback cavity having a second length shorter than the first length; light reflected into the light source from within the first feedback cavity undergoes a first self-mixing process with light generated by the light source; light reflected into the light source from within the second feedback cavity undergoes a second self-mixing process with light generated by the light source; and the processing electronics analyze the first self-mixing process and the second self-mixing process by detecting a change in at least one of a junction voltage or a current of the self-mixing interference sensing system and, in response to detecting the at least one of the junction voltage or the current, identify a presence of the input applied to the sensing location.”
For review more details and the remaining 19 patent claims, review Apple’s granted patent 11,392,248 titled “Waveguide-based interferometric multi-point/distributed force and touch sensors.”