On July 23, 2015, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals that their lightning connectors use graphene signal paths.
Apple's Patent Background
Electronic devices often include input-output connectors and other structures that are formed from molded plastic parts. It can be challenging to route signals within these molded plastic parts. Some connectors form signal paths using stamped sheet metal. Stamped sheet metal structures may, however, be bulky. Metal can be deposited using physical vapor deposition techniques, but metal coatings that are formed in this way may not be conformal and may be overly thick.
It would therefore be desirable to be able to form improved structures for electronic devices such as molded plastic structures for input-output connectors or other device structures.
Apple Invents Lightning Connector Structures with Graphene Signal Paths
A connector or other structure may be provided with dielectric material and conductive traces. The dielectric material may include plastic structures such as molded plastic members. Elastomeric material may allow part of a connector to flex when the connector is mated with a corresponding connector.
Printed circuits may be used to mount electrical components. Conductive traces may be formed on printed circuits, on plastic connector structures such as molded plastic structures, on elastomeric members in a connector, or on other dielectric structures. The conductive structures may form signal interconnects, ground plane structures, contacts, and other conductive paths.
The conductive traces may be formed from metal and other conductive materials such as graphene. Graphene traces may be deposited using inkjet printing techniques or other deposition and patterning techniques. During inkjet printing, graphene may be patterned to form signal lines on a connector structure, printed circuit, or other structure, contacts on a printed circuit board or other structure, connector contacts on a connector structure, ground structures on a connector, printed circuit, or other structure, or other conductive structures.
Input-output circuitry in device 10 such as input-output devices 12 may be used to allow data to be supplied to device 10 and to allow data to be provided from device 10 to external devices. Input-output devices 12 may include buttons, joysticks, click wheels, scrolling wheels, touch pads, key pads, keyboards, microphones, speakers, tone generators, vibrators, cameras, sensors, light-emitting diodes and other status indicators, data ports, displays, etc. A user can control the operation of device 10 by supplying commands through input-output devices 12 and may receive status information and other output from device 10 using the output resources of input-output devices 12.
In Apple's patent FIG. 11 below we're able to see a connector 72 (lightning connector) coupled to a signal cable such as cable #98. Cable #98 may contain a bundle of metal wires surrounded by an insulating plastic jacket. Each metal wire in the cable may be connected to a respective printed graphene trace #80 in connector 72 (as an example). Inkjet-printed graphene traces #80 may be formed on the upper and/or lower surfaces of plastic connector tongue #84. The tongue may be mounted within connector shell #76.
Apple's patent FIG. 13 is a perspective view of a tip portion of tongue member #84 in an illustrative connector configuration having printed graphene traces #80 that form signal contacts and a ground conductor (i.e., a ground contact, ground shielding structure, or other ground). As shown in FIG. 13, inkjet-printed graphene traces may have enlarged portions that form connector contacts 80-1.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 noted above is a perspective view of an illustrative structure on which a printed graphene trace is being formed. As shown in FIG. 2, structure #18 may include horizontal surfaces #20 and vertical surfaces #22 that are joined by right-angle bends #24 Inkjet-printed graphene trace #26 may overlap bends #24. The structure may be formed from polymer, glass, ceramic, metal, carbon-fiber composite material or other fiber composite material, other dielectrics, other materials, or combinations of these materials.
As an example, the structure may be formed from molded plastic, machined plastic, thermoset polymer material, or thermoplastic polymer material. If desired, the structure may include a metal base structure or a support structure that is formed from other conductive material and an insulating coating formed from an organic material (e.g., polymer) or inorganic material.
Graphene paths such as graphene trace may be formed on the surface of the structure. For example, the inkjet printing equipment #28 or other suitable graphene deposition equipment may be used in depositing graphene onto the surface of the structure Inkjet printing equipment may include one or more printing heads such as printing head #30 that dispense graphene in liquid form (see, e.g., graphene #32 that is being dispensed from the tip of the printing head). The printing head may contain one or more inkjet nozzles. Once deposited onto the structure, the liquid material in which the graphene is deposited may be evaporated (at room temperature or at an elevated temperature), leaving graphene traces such as graphene trace #26 on the structure.
Apple credits Ibuki Kamei, Eric Jol and Warren Jones as the inventors of patent application 20150207254 which was originally filed in Q1 2014.
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