On July 18, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals the technology behind their new fingerprint sensor which will be used in a future fingerprint scanner for the iPhone and possibly other iDevices and Macs. The technology revealed is from Apple's acquired AuthenTec. Apple's interest in fingerprint scanners for the iPhone and Mac first surfaced in a 2009 patent application. Apple's project was then advanced in 2012 illustrating that a fingerprint scanner could be combined with face or eye recognition (or Retina recognition) to enhance security needs. Then in May of this year, Apple revealed yet another patent filing describing a fingerprint scanner that could be concealed beneath a touchscreen and only surface when needed in a particular application. One of Apple's last patent filings on this subject matter revealed that a fingerprint scanner could also be hidden within a future MacBook or an iDevice bezel. Apple appears to be covering every conceivable application for a future fingerprint scanner. At the end of the day, the race is on to find new authentication methods that will provide users with a secure e-commerce transaction process within their hardware while simplifying the user login process. Today we get to the heart of the actual technology behind Apple's future fingerprint sensor/scanner.
Apple's Patent Background
Fingerprint sensing and matching is a reliable and widely used technique for personal identification or verification. In particular, a common approach to fingerprint identification involves scanning a sample fingerprint or an image thereof and storing the image and/or unique characteristics of the fingerprint image. The characteristics of a sample fingerprint may be compared to information for reference fingerprints already in a database to determine proper identification of a person, such as for verification purposes.
A fingerprint sensor may be particularly advantageous for verification and/or authentication in an electronic device, and more particularly, a portable device, for example. Such a fingerprint sensor may be carried by the housing of a portable electronic device, for example, and may be sized to sense a fingerprint from a single-finger. For example, the AES3400 sensor from AuthenTec, Inc. of Melbourne, Fla., is widely used in a variety of notebooks, desktops and PC peripherals. Other fingerprint sensors such as the AES850, also from AuthenTec, Inc. of Melbourne, Fla., is a multi-function smart sensor that expands touch-based functionality of touchscreen and QWERTY smartphones with a reduced impact on sensor performance or durability.
When using a semiconductor fingerprint sensor, or integrated circuit fingerprint sensor, in a portable electronic device, for example, a mobile telephone, it may be desirable to locate the integrated circuit of the fingerprint sensor separately from the finger sensing region.
Separating the finger sensing integrated circuit (IC) from the finger sensing area may be particularly advantageous when the finger sensing area is relatively thin and transparent so that it may be placed over the top of a display of the portable electronic device, and wherein the IC may be located in a nearby non-display region of the portable electronic device.
A relatively high quality electronic fingerprint sensor includes the finger sensing region directly above the IC of the fingerprint sensor. In the current art, a lower quality fingerprint sensor may operate with the finger sensing area region separated from the IC, but the fingerprint sensor often may experience problems operating in the display region. The lower quality fingerprint sensor is typically unable to capture fingerprint images through a relatively thick protective cover used over the display regions of portable electronic devices. Thus, the images that are captured are noisier and lower quality, which may lead to unacceptable biometric performance.
Apple's Fingerprint Sensor Solution
In view of the foregoing background, it is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a finger sensor that can generate a reduced noise finger measurement from a finger, for example, positioned in a finger sensing area at a relatively large distance from the finger sensing integrated circuit.
This and other objects, features, and advantages in accordance with the present invention are provided by a finger sensor that may include a plurality of pixels, a plurality of pixel sensing traces each associated with a respective pixel, and a plurality of electrodes overlying the plurality of pixel sensing traces. The finger sensor may also include pixel sensing circuitry coupled to the plurality of pixel sensing traces and the plurality of electrodes. The pixel sensing circuitry may be capable of operating in a measurement mode by operating the plurality of pixels so that at least some of the plurality of pixels are active, and at least some other of the plurality of pixels are inactive and coupling pixel sensing traces associated with the inactive pixels to a voltage reference. The pixel sensing circuitry may also be capable of operating in the measurement mode by coupling electrodes associated with the active pixels to the voltage reference and coupling electrodes associated with the inactive pixels to a drive signal. Accordingly, the finger sensor may generate a reduced noise finger measurement, for example, by reducing interference generated from a finger positioned in a finger sensing area at a relatively large distance from the finger sensing integrated circuit.
The pixel sensing circuitry may be further capable of operating in a shielding mode by coupling the plurality of pixel sensing traces and the plurality of electrodes to the voltage reference. The finger sensor may further include a finger sensing integrated circuit (IC) coupled to the plurality of pixels sensing traces, for example.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 shown below is a schematic plan view of a future iPhone including a fingerprint sensor for use with its touchscreen display.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 shown below is the fingerprint sensor #30 which includes a fingerprint sensor integrated circuit (IC) #31. The pixel sensing traces #33 are illustratively coupled to the fingerprint sensor IC and extend outwardly to define a first metallization layer.
In operation, a user's finger is swiped or positioned on top of the drive/shield electrodes #35 in the finger sensing area #32 where the pixel sensing traces are not covered by the drive/shield electrodes.
Apple's patent FIG. 3 shown below is a schematic diagram of electric field flux sensing pixel circuit for use with the fingerprint sensor of FIG. 2.
Various Views of Apple's Fingerprint Sensor
Below you'll see a series of patent figures (#4 to 10) covering different views of the fingerprint sensor as follows: FIG. 4 is a bottom view of a fingerprint sensor; FIG. 5 is a top view of the fingerprint sensor of FIG. 4; FIG. 6 is a combined top and bottom view of the fingerprint sensor of FIGS. 4 and 5; FIG. 7 is a bottom view of a fingerprint sensor; FIG. 8 is a greatly enlarged view of a portion of the fingerprint sensor of FIG. 7; FIG. 9 is a plan view of a drive/shield electrode arrangement of a fingerprint sensor in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention; and finally, patent FIG. 10 is a top plan view of an arrangement of a conductive layer of the touchscreen display and the pixel sensing traces of an electronic device in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
Apple credits Dale R Setlak (Co-Founder and VP of Research at AuthenTec) as the sole inventor of this patent application which was filed in Q1 2013. This is a patent that Apple acquired through their acquisition of AuthenTec. To review the full patent details and its 20 patent claims, see patent application 20130181949.
Apple's patent also incorporates a series of granted patents including 5,953,441 (Harris Corporation), 6,289,114 (Thomson-CSF France) and 7,361,919 (AuthenTec) which were assigned to Setlak. Another patent that Apple has likely acquired from AuthenTec is patent application 20010032319 which relates to their technology being applied to notebooks that's worth noting.
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Off Topic: We were asked recently why we didn't cover Apple's granted patent this week regarding Liquidmetal. Plain and simple, the patent wasn't one granted to Apple, but rather Crucible Intellectual Property. We covered Apple's true Liquidmetal patent extensively and exclusively back in April under the title "A Fascinating Liquidmetal Patent from Apple Surfaces in Europe." It spells out more than what is presented in the Crucible patent. So it's not really news.
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