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Apple wins a patent for Finger Devices with Proximity Sensors having submicron resolution that could detect the tiniest of finger movements

1 cover Apple patent finger devices

Yesterday Patently Apple posted a report titled "Samsung filed for the 'Galaxy Ring' Trademark earlier this year and leaker Ice Universe now predicts that it will debut at the Galaxy S24 event. Over the years Apple has filed for patents for both smart rings and "finger devices": 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06 and more. Finger devices may one day work with smartglasses, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, TV, a display and/or an iMac as presented below from the 01 patent above.

2 Apple finger device working with an iMac patent

Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent titled "Finger Devices with Proximity Sensors."

Apple's patent covers a system that may include one or more finger devices that gather input from a user's fingers. The system may include control circuitry that sends control signals to an electronic device based on the input gathered with the finger devices.

A finger device may include one or more proximity sensors that measure a distance to the user's finger. The proximity sensor may be an optical proximity sensor such as a self-mixing interferometric optical proximity sensor having a laser and photodiode.

The proximity sensor may have submicron resolution and may be configured to detect very small movements of the user's finger skin as the finger pad is moved around by a thumb finger, by a surface, and/or by other finger movements. The proximity sensor may measure changes in distance between the proximity sensor and a flexible membrane that rests against a side portion of the user's finger.

A self-mixing proximity sensor may have a coherent or partially coherent source of electromagnetic radiation. The source of radiation may, for example, be a coherent light source such as an infrared vertical cavity surface-emitting laser, a quantum cascade laser, or other laser. The self-mixing proximity sensor may also have a light detector such as a photodiode and/or other electromagnetic-radiation-sensitive element. The photodiode may be stacked with the laser and/or may be an intra-cavity photodiode that is located within the laser cavity.

The control circuitry can modulate the laser bias current signal to produce a target distance measurement corresponding to an absolute distance between the self-mixing proximity sensor and the user's finger (or a flexible membrane that rests against the user's finger). This modulation can enable the detection of the relative displacement of the user's finger (or a flexible membrane resting against the user's finger).

2 Finger device patent figs  apple patent

Apple's patent FIG. 31 above is a side view of an illustrative finger device having a side housing portion that extends down a back end of a fingertip and having proximity sensors at different heights along the side of the finger; FIG. 32 is a side view of an illustrative finger device having a side housing portion that curves away from a back end of a fingertip.

Beyond the key proximity sensors, Apple notes that other sensors may be used on the finger devices which may hint at offering different finger devices for different devices over time.

The list of sensors include the following: force sensors (e.g., strain gauges, capacitive force sensors, resistive force sensors, etc.), audio sensors such as microphones, touch and/or proximity sensors such as capacitive sensors, optical sensors such as optical sensors that emit and detect light, ultrasonic sensors (e.g., ultrasonic sensors for tracking device orientation and location and/or for detecting user input such as finger input), and/or other touch sensors and/or proximity sensors, monochromatic and color ambient light sensors, image sensors, sensors for detecting position, orientation, and/or motion (e.g., accelerometers, magnetic sensors such as compass sensors, gyroscopes, and/or inertial measurement units that contain some or all of these sensors), muscle activity sensors (EMG) for detecting finger actions, radio-frequency sensors, depth sensors (e.g., structured light sensors and/or depth sensors based on stereo imaging devices), optical sensors such as self-mixing sensors and light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors that gather time-of-flight measurements, optical sensors such as visual odometry sensors that gather position and/or orientation information using images gathered with digital image sensors in cameras, gaze tracking sensors, visible light and/or infrared cameras having digital image sensors, humidity sensors, moisture sensors, and/or other sensors.

In yet other arrangements, finger devices may use sensors and/or other input-output devices to gather user input (e.g., buttons may be used to gather button press input, touch sensors overlapping displays can be used for gathering user touch screen input, touch pads may be used in gathering touch input, microphones may be used for gathering audio input, accelerometers may be used in monitoring when a finger contacts an input surface and may therefore be used to gather finger press input, etc.).

If desired, the finger devices may include rotating buttons (e.g., a crown mechanism on a watch or finger device or other suitable rotary button that rotates and that optionally can be depressed to select items of interest).

Apple further notes that tracking can also be performed that involves extrapolating from a known body part orientation (e.g., a finger orientation) to produce orientation information on other body parts (e.g., wrist and/or arm orientation estimated using inverse kinematics). Visual odometry sensors may, if desired, be included in finger devices. These sensors may include image sensors that gather frames of image data of the surroundings the finger devices and may be used in measuring position, orientation, and/or motion from the frame of image data.

Lidar, ultrasonic sensors oriented in multiple directions, radio-frequency tracking sensors, and/or other finger device tracking arrangements may be used, if desired.

If desired, user input may include air gestures (sometimes referred to as three-dimensional gestures or non-contact gestures) gathered with sensors 18 (e.g., proximity sensors, image sensors, ultrasonic sensors, radio-frequency sensors, etc.).

For more details, review Apple's granted patent 11755107.

10.52FX - Granted Patent Bar


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