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Apple Considering a New "Exciting" Feature for Future Devices

1 - Cover - Apple Inc, Exciter Technology 
Late last week the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that revealed various concepts behind a newly advanced Authentication Key generator in development. Some of the patent delves into the tap-tap process similarly used with NFC, which allows for two devices to swap information wirelessly and securely. Yet the key to this patent is that Apple is devising a way to make swapping information between two devices even easier, without tapping via a technology that they dub as the "Exciter." Interestingly, the communication between two devices goes beyond just iPhones. The two devices could be any combination of devices that include an iPod, a Blackberry, MacBook/notebook, camera and/or medical equipment. More importantly, is that this technology will apply to a new class of device that Apple simply lists in their patent as the cyclocomputer - which supports Apple's revelations about the Smart Bike. The simpler method of wirelessly swapping information between two bikers using the Exciter methodology is a perfect application for this technology.

Patent Background

Most communications protocols require that each device in a wireless network uses a common authentication key, such as a personal identification number (PIN), to secure communications. However, the traditional techniques for implementing such an authentication process could be tedious and slow. For example, the users may need to agree upon a common PIN (or share a predetermined PIN) and then manually enter the PIN into each device. These steps can slow down the process of forming secured networks and may even discourage users from using secured networks.

Patent Summary

Apple's patent is directed to communications methods, devices, and systems for generating authentication keys based on one or more physical stimuli.

In some embodiments, two or more wireless communications devices could generate an authentication key by monitoring a physical stimulus that is experienced by both devices. The physical stimulus could be two devices coming in contact with each other via a tap operation. For example, each device could include a sensor and monitor that sensor output during a common physical stimulus. After monitoring a common physical stimulus, such as the tapping, each device could then use an identical, predetermined algorithm to generate a common authentication key based on sensor output associated with the stimulus. The devices could use the common authentication key to establish a secure network.

In some embodiments, two or more devices could generate an authentication key by detecting first and second physical stimuli. Each device could generate an authentication key based on the time elapsed between the two stimuli. For example, a user could tap the wireless devices together twice, and then each device could use the time between the taps to generate an authentication key for establishing a secure network between the two devices.

In some embodiments, one device could include an exciter and another device could include a sensor, and the exciter could provide a physical stimulus for the sensor to detect. Accordingly, a user may not need to provide a physical stimulus when using such a system to generate an authentication key.

About the Exciter

In Apple's patent FIG. 13, we're introduced to an iPhone (or other iOS device) that includes a new concept identified as an Exciter. The Exciter, noted as patent point 1322 below, may provide physical stimuli for generating an authentication key that could be used to form secure networks with other devices (e.g., device 1310). For example, the exciter may be a mechanism that creates vibrations, sensor 1312 may be an accelerometer that could detect the vibrations, and device 1310 may be able to generate an authentication key based on a measured characteristic value of the vibrations.

2 - Apple Inc, The Exciter within an iOS device 

The Exciter could provide any suitable type or number of physical stimuli for detection by another device (e.g., device 1310). For example, the exciter may provide one or more movement stimuli (e.g., vibrations), light stimuli (e.g., a strobe), sound stimuli, any other emitted radiation stimuli, or any combination thereof. The type of stimuli provided by the exciter may correspond to the type of stimuli that sensors in other devices (e.g., sensor 1312) could detect. The number of stimuli provided by the exciter may vary depending on the characteristic value being measured by another device (e.g., device 1310). For example, the exciter may provide a single stimulus if the characteristic value being measured is based on a single excitation in sensor output. In another example, the exciter may provide two or more stimuli if the characteristic value being measured is based on an elapsed time between excitations or an average value of an excitation property across multiple excitations (e.g., average excitation magnitude or average excitation duration).

Snooping Prevention

In some embodiments, device 1310 may be positioned to prevent snooping when detecting one or more physical stimuli. For example, if the one or more stimuli includes non-movement stimuli (e.g., light, sound, or other radiation), device 1310 may be positioned so that nearby devices belonging to strangers cannot secretly detect the stimuli. For example, if the one or more stimuli includes light, device 1310 may be positioned so that it blocks the light generated by the exciter from nearby devices. This may be advantageous because it could prevent nearby devices from detecting the one or more stimuli, generating an authentication key, and then eavesdropping (e.g., snooping) on a secure network between the devices.

Other Sensors

The iPhone sensor could include one or more environmental sensing components for detecting other physical stimuli affecting communications. Suitable environmental sensing components may include, for example, proximity sensors, thermal sensors, optical sensors, infra-red sensors, light sensors, pressure sensors, acoustic sensors, any other suitable type of sensor, or any combination thereof.

The communications circuitry that could be included in the devices with the new exciter technology includes but is not limited to: Wi-Fi (e.g., a 802.11 protocol), Bluetooth, radio frequency systems (e.g., 900 MHz, 1.4 GHz, and 5.6 GHz communication systems), cellular networks (e.g., GSM, AMPS, GPRS, CDMA, EV-DO, EDGE, 3GSM, DECT, IS-136/TDMA, iDen, LTE or any other suitable cellular network or protocol), infrared, TCP/IP (e.g., any of the protocols used in each of the TCP/IP layers), HTTP, BitTorrent, FTP, RTP, RTSP, SSH, Voice over IP (VOIP), any other communications protocol, or any combination thereof.

Swapping Information: iPhone Illustrative Displays

3 - Apple iPhone Swap Option illustrative displays 

If the topic of wireless security is of great interest to you, then this patent could provide you with in-depth details concerning the proposed exciter's methodologies infinitise.

Apple credits David Andrus, Philip Kearney, Christopher Zimmermann, Jeremy Franklin and Nathaniel Sharpe as the inventors of patent application 20100199092, originally filed in Q1 2009.

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News Note: Liquidmetal Technologies, Inc., has entered into a Master Transaction Agreement with Apple. See our June 12 special report that covered liquid metal before the deal.




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