Apple's iPhone 6s introduced an entirely new way to interact with an iPhone. For the ﬁrst time, iPhone senses how much pressure you apply to the display. In addition to familiar Multi‑Touch gestures like Tap, Swipe, and Pinch, 3D Touch introduces Peek and Pop. This brings a new dimension of functionality to the iPhone experience. And when you use 3D Touch, your iPhone responds with subtle taps. So not only will you see what a press can do — you'll feel it. In Jony Ive's introductory video explaining 3D touch and in Apple's verbiage on this technology, they never mention the use of Ultrasonic Pulse technology. Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals the use of Ultrasonic Pulse in context with 3D Touch applications. Whether Apple has kept their technology secret until now or it's yet a new dimension coming to 3D Touch is unknown at this time. This patent pending technology may come into play during the upcoming patent infringement case filed by Immersion earlier this month.
Apple's Invention: Ultrasonic-Based 3D Touch
Apple's 3D Touch related invention provides techniques, including circuits and designs, which can determine an amount of force applied, and changes in amounts of force applied, by the user when contacting a device, such as a touch device, and which can be incorporated into devices using touch recognition, touch elements of a GUI, and touch input or manipulation in an application program. This application also provides techniques, including devices which apply those techniques, which can determine an amount of force applied, and changes in amounts of force applied, by the user when contacting a device, such as a touch device, and in response thereto, provide additional functions available to a user of a touch device.
In one embodiment, techniques can include providing a force sensitive sensor incorporated into a touch device. For a first example, a force sensitive sensor can include an ultrasound device which can detect a measure of how forcefully a user is pressing, pushing, or otherwise contacting a touch device. For a second example, a force sensitive sensor can include one or more force sensing elements, each of which can detect a measure of applied force at a specific location on a surface of the device. For a third example, a force sensitive sensor can include one or more force sensing elements, which collectively can detect a measure of applied force in a gesture involving movement, or a designated region, on a surface of the device.
Apple's invention covers techniques that can include generating an ultrasonic pulse from a position within the device, reflecting the ultrasonic pulse from an interface between the surface of the device and either the air or a user's finger, and measuring a signal indicating an amount of applied force at the surface of the device, and possibly a particular location of applied force.
An ultrasonic pulse can be directed at a particular one of a set of force sensing elements at a surface of the device, where each force sensing element distinguishes a particular location of applied force. The ultrasonic pulse can be reflected differently from the surface of the device depending upon an amount of applied force at the surface of the device, and possibly depending upon a location of that applied force. These elements have the effect that if a user applies force to a particular location at the surface of the device, the ultrasonic pulse will be reflected differently in response to the amount of that applied force, and possibly the location of that applied force.
In one embodiment, techniques can include generating an ultrasonic pulse by a piezoelectric element, such as a polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) element or another substance having a piezoelectric effect, in response to a triggering signal which generates the ultrasonic pulse.
A particular ultrasonic pulse can be generated at a particular time, with a particular duration, or with a particular signal format (such as a particular frequency, pulse code, or waveform shape), in response to a triggering signal, with the effect that the reflection of the particular ultrasonic pulse can be recognized in response to the reflected form of that particular ultrasonic pulse. In embodiments in which there are a set of force sensing elements, each particular ultrasonic pulse can be distinguished at its generation point and time by a particular identifier (such as its time, duration, frequency, or signal format), with the effect that an applied force can be distinguished by which one or more force sensing elements reflects its own particular ultrasonic pulse. For example, each force sensing element can have its own particular time slot allocated for transmission, and its own particular time slot allocated for reception, in a round-robin cycle of ultrasonic pulses, with the effect that reflections from different force sensing elements can be distinguished.
Apple's patent FIG. 5A shows a conceptual drawing of a system including ultrasound-based sensing; Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted above illustrates a conceptual drawing of a system including ultrasound-based force sensing, including ultrasound-based reflection in non-force-applied and force-applied examples. Ultrasound-based 3D touch could work with iDevices, the MacBook trackpad and beyond such as with the iMac, Apple TV and peripherals like the Magic Trackpad.
To learn more about Apple's ultrasonic-based 3D Touch, see Apple's patent application 20160054826.
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