Apple worked hard on Force Sensor solutions that went into the new MacBook and Apple Watch. Today, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published another patent application from Apple regarding force sensors using strain and bending beam sensors. Apple states that by employing multiple sensors in appropriate configurations, a location at which a force is applied may be determined in addition to a magnitude of the force. As we know from the new MacBook, applying more force to the trackpad on certain applications like music, for example, could increase sound. Apple is working on new applications that could take advantage of their new combined force sensor and Taptic Engine systems.
The Force Touch trackpad: Press a little deeper, do a lot more
On Apple's new MacBook webpage on Design features, it states that "The new Force Touch trackpad may look like other trackpads on the surface – but underneath it's unlike anything that's existed before. Force sensors detect how much pressure you're applying, and the new Taptic Engine provides a click sensation when you press anywhere on the surface. Now the click that once was a single, mechanical function is just the start of what you can do with Force Touch. The sensory capabilities of the Force Touch trackpad allow you to tell your MacBook what you want it to do based on subtle differences in the amount of pressure you apply. This makes it possible to perform a variety of different actions in different apps, all on the same surface. And it can respond with haptic feedback you can actually feel, making your MacBook more usable and personal than ever before."
Today's invention generally relates to method and sensors for measuring forces on a trackpad or other surface, such as a computing input device.
Apple's method provides for fabricating a bending beam sensor coupled to a touch input device. The method may include, for example, providing a bending beam, placing a first strain gauge and a second strain gauge on a surface of the beam near a first end of the beam, and aligning the first strain gauge and the second strain gauge with the beam along an axis. The first end typically is attached to a base. The method may employ a first strain gauge and a second strain gauge that are both electrically connected such that a differential signal is obtained from the first strain gauge and the second strain gauge when a load is applied on the plate of the touch input device.
In another embodiment, a method is provided for fabricating a touch input device coupled with bending beam sensors. The method includes providing at least three bending beams. The method also includes placing a first bending beam sensor on a surface of the first bending beam and aligning the first bending beam sensor with the first beam between a first end and a second free end of the first beam, the first end of the first beam attached to a first beam base.
Apple's patent FIG. 8A noted below is a perspective view of the bottom of a trackpad with four bending beams at the corners in another embodiment. Note that the bending beams 806A-D are entirely within the footprint of the trackpad plate #810. In contrast, the bending beams may extend beyond the edges of the trackpad plate.
Apple notes that in the case of multi-touch gestures, the location and magnitude of multiple forces may be determined from the outputs of the position sensor and the bending beam sensors, each load correlated with a different touch on the trackpad or other input mechanism. For example, when using two or more fingers to touch a track pad simultaneously, it is required to determine the location and magnitude of multiple forces.
Whether this technology is already incorporated in Apple's new MacBook trackpad or has been replaced to a certain degree by Apple's Taptic Engine is unknown at this time. But it's clear that Apple's engineers have been researching and working on force sensor and applications for such sensors for some time now.
Some of Apple's other intellectual property on the topic of force sensors were covered in the following reports:
Apple's patent application is more of a technical patent than it is for providing examples of end-user experiences. But for engineer-types and the technical savvy, you might want to check out Apple's thinking behind this invention. For more, check out patent application methods that would like to see what Apple is thinking of in this invention 20150116260 here.
Apple credits Storrs Hoen, Peteris Augenbergs, John Brock, Jonah Harley and Sam Sarcia as the inventors of this patent application which was originally filed in Q4 2014.
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