Apple has been working on moving Touch ID from the Home Button to beneath the display for some time now. The first serious patent application surfaced in February 2015 followed a second patent filing in July 2016. Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published Apple's third invention relating to Touch ID moving to beneath the display. Apple's latest invention describes the introduction of a new acoustic imaging system architecture to resolve an image of a user's fingerprint when the user touches the display. Technically speaking, Apple's Touch Bar was the first OLED display system to incorporate Touch ID. So Apple has already proven that it works. Apple notes that the next generation Touch ID system will be able to work with systems beyond iDevices to include commercial appliances, in-vehicle infotainment systems associated with CarPlay, iMacs and more. Whether this feature will be introduced on Apple's top-end iPhone later this year or broadly across their entire line-up is unknown at this time.
Apple's Acoustic Imaging System Architecture
An electronic device such as an iPhone could include a biometric sensor, such as a fingerprint sensor, to establish an identity of an unknown user prior to performing a task. The fingerprint sensor obtains an image of a fingerprint of the user and compares information derived from that image to information stored in a protected database accessible to the electronic device. The task is performed by the electronic device only after the comparison results in an affirmative match.
In many examples, the acoustic imaging system is configured to resolve an image of a user's fingerprint when the user touches the display. The acoustic imaging system operates by generating acoustic waves (or pulses) that propagate through an external surface of the display and thereafter monitoring reflections, attenuations, and/or diffractions to those acoustic waves caused by the user's fingerprint.
After the user touches the display, and after a fingerprint image is resolved by the system, a processor in communication with the system compares the resolved image--or information derived therefrom--to entries in a database of previously-stored fingerprint images or data.
If the processor determines a match, the processor informs the electronic device, after which the electronic device can perform a restricted-access task, such as showing private, personal, or confidential information on the display (e.g., bank statements, health information, communications, corporate or business information, trade secrets, and so on).
For simplicity of description, the embodiments that follow are described in reference to an acoustic imaging system associated with a touch and/or force input-responsive display of a portable electronic device.
However, such a configuration is not required; an acoustic imaging system such as described herein (or a portion thereof) can be implemented in any suitable or implementation-specific manner and incorporated into any suitable electronic device or electronic device system including, but not limited to, wearable electronic devices, laptop devices, tablet devices, desktop devices, automotive or aeronautical information or entertainment systems, gaming devices, home or commercial appliances, industrial control devices, and so on.
In one example, the substrate is a transparent cover of a display an electronic device formed from glass, sapphire, or another optically transparent material. In one example, the distribution of transducers may be hidden by a bezel of the display.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 depicts an example electronic device that can include an acoustic imaging system within a display; FIG. 2 depicts a simplified block diagram of an acoustic imaging system; FIG. 3 depicts a distribution of transducers associated with an acoustic imaging system disposed on a bottom surface of a cover so as to circumscribe a substantially rectangular area.
Apple's patent FIG. 6A depicts an acoustic imaging system implemented with a distributed controller; FIG. 6B depicts a simplified cross-section of a portion of an acoustic imaging system implemented with a distributed controller; FIG. 7 depicts example operations of a method of operating an acoustic imaging system.
Apple further notes that in one example, each transducer is operated in one or more modes, such as a drive mode and a sense mode. When in the drive mode, a transducer mechanically deforms in response to a drive signal. When in the sense mode, a transducer produces an electrical signal in response to a mechanical deformation. A transducer is mechanically deformed as a result of a mechanical wave such as a surface wave, shear wave, plane wave, or other acoustic wave type that propagates through a top surface and/or through the thickness of the substrate.
The acoustic imaging sensor also includes a controller configured to generate an ultrasonic wave within, or on a top surface of, the substrate and, separately, to receive acoustic reflections resulting therefrom. An acoustic reflection is generated by an acoustic impedance mismatch resulting from an object engaging the top surface of the substrate. In one example, the object engaging the top surface of the substrate is user's finger.
The controller generates an ultrasonic wave by generating and applying a drive signal to one or more of the transducers, operating these elements in the drive mode. Thereafter, the controller operates at least one of the transducers in the sense mode to receive one or more electrical signals generated by the transducers.
The acoustic imaging sensor also includes an image resolver configured to, based on the one or more electrical signals received by the controller, construct an image, either partial or complete, of an object (if any) engaging the top surface of the substrate.
Lastly, Apple notes that their invention could be configured to allow users to optionally bypass biometric authentication steps by providing secure information such as passwords, personal identification numbers (PINS), touch gestures, or other authentication methods, alone or in combination, known to those of skill in the art. In another example, users can select to remove, disable, or restrict access to certain health-related applications collecting users' personal health or fitness data.
Apple's patent application 20170053151 was filed back in Q3 2016. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time – though this particular feature has been rumored to be aimed for at least one iPhone model later this year.
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