On August 22, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a revolutionary new flexible material that could be used as the enclosure and hinge mechanism for a future MacBook and several other products. The new material is designed to purposely flex just enough to bend into a particular geometric form factor and no more so as to safeguard internal components. It's the kind of material that only Apple would take the time to invent so that they could create truly amazing next generation products.
Apple's Patent Background
Many electronic devices, peripheral components or devices (such as speakers, headphones, keyboards, etc.) may include housings or enclosures made of a relatively rigid material, such as plastic or metal. These types of enclosures are typically at least somewhat rigid in order to provide protection for internal components housed within the enclosures.
However, due to the rigidity of the material, in order for these types of enclosures or housings to bend or flex, a separate element, such as a hinge, may need to be connected to the rigid material.
For example, laptop enclosures may include two separate rigid components interconnected together by one or more hinges that allow the two components to move relative to each other.
These additional components, such as hinges, may increase the size of the enclosures and thus the size of the electronic devices or peripheral devices.
Apple's Invents a New Flexible Material
Apple's invention relates to methods for creating different kinds of enclosures for electronic devices. The method includes providing a rigid material and removing sections of the rigid material to create a geometric pattern of interlocking features. The geometric pattern may define the flex of the rigid material.
The method includes providing a substantially rigid material and removing portions of the rigid material to create a plurality of flex apertures. The flex apertures are defined by interlocking features of the rigid material, the interlocking features are adjacent to each other and spaced apart from one another by the flex apertures. Each interlocking features has at least one sidewall and an angle of the sidewall determines a radial bend the rigid material. The rigid material formed using the disclosed method may be non-cylindrical, e.g., planar or a three-dimensional object that includes curves but is not substantially cylindrical.
Future MacBooks with a New Flexible Display Hinge
In Apple's patent FIG. 2A below we see a perspective view of a future MacBook Pro with a new enclosure formed of a substantially rigid material noted in patent figure 2B further below as patent point #230. The material includes a strain relief or flexible portion in the hinge area #204. The MacBook's enclosure may at least partially surround one or more components such as a keyboard, track pad, and/or a display.
It should be noted that, although the electronic device 200 in FIG. 2A is illustrated as a MacBook, other electronic devices are envisioned. For example, the enclosure may be used to for smartphones, digital music players, display screens or televisions, video game consoles, set top boxes, telephones and beyond.
The flexible hinge of the MacBook's enclosure may allow it to bend in at least one direction. In Apple's patent FIG. 2B we see a side elevation view of a MacBook Pro in a closed position, with the enclosure folded at the flexible hinge.
Laser Cut Precision
Apple states that once a geometric pattern has been determined for this new rigid yet flexible material, specialized machinery can proceed to an operation involving the use of a laser cutter to cut and/or engrave the geometric pattern into the rigid material. In other embodiments, the cutting device may include electrical discharge machining.
Where the cutting device is a laser, a laser beam may cut apertures into the rigid material or remove one or more layers of the rigid material to create a recess within the rigid material for such things as side ports for a MacBook. The laser beam may melt, cut, burn, and/or vaporize the material to create the apertures and/or recesses (engraved portions) within the rigid material.
In embodiments utilizing a laser as the cutting mechanism, the laser may include a multi-axis head that can shift as appropriate to create the angulation and other requirements of the geometric pattern or patterns. For example, the position of the head of the laser may be modified based on the shape of the cuts, while maintaining a single cut through a portion of the material. Other cutting devices are also envisioned.
Controlling the Flexible Bend
In Apple's patent FIG. 4C noted below we see a side perspective view of the rigid material being partially bent. FIG. 4D is a side perspective view of the rigid material being more fully bent.
The angular orientation of the sidewalls may act as a "stop" to prevent, reduce, or resist bending a in a particular direction. This may help to protect internal components of the electronic device from damage.
For example, as the rigid material may be used to form the enclosure, the angular orientation of the sidewalls may prevent bending past a predetermined angle so that enclosure does not "over bend" and potentially damage internal components from damage.
Interlocking Geometric Patterns
In Apple's patent FIG. 5E, the geometric pattern may include one or more interlocking features separated from one another by flex apertures. Each of the interlocking features, noted as patent point #286 below, may move relative to adjacent interlocking features due to the flex apertures.
Other Applications for the Revolutionary Flex Material
Apple's revolutionary flexible material will apply to products beyond those indicated above. The method may also be used to create enclosures (or portions thereof) for one more peripheral devices such as keyboards, mice, connection cables or cords and beyond. Further, the method may be used to create bands (such as an arm band to support an electronic device), garage doors, straps, handles, cases, bags, electronic reading devices, shades or blinds, and substantially any other components which may require flexibility.
In Fact, two examples are illustrated below in the form of earphone cabling and Apple's Smart Cover for the iPad.
The enclosure 602 that is illustrated in patent FIGS. 8A and 8B above may include the geometric patterns along the length of the flexible portion. This may allow the enclosure to bend, while still maintaining a rigid connection to the speaker. The new design may be substantially prevent breaking or cracking. Additionally, the flexibility of the enclosure may increase the bending radius of the communication cable at the connection location. This may provide a strain relief for the cable which may help to prevent internal wires or the cable itself from breaking due to a bending force.
In another example, Apple illustrates using the new flexible material for a possible iPad Smart Cover.
Apple's patent application was originally filed under serial number 268943 in Q1 2013 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
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