Apple Invents Flexible Displays and Electronics to Work with Future iDevices, Clothing, Smart Windows & more
Patently Apple's other blog called Patently Mobile has covered the advances of flexible displays from Samsung for years. You could check out some of the major ones here: (one, two, three and four. The most interesting ones relate to a possible scrollable smart device. Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals their work on flexible displays and electronics that will extend to specialty applications. Beyond applying their revealed technology to known devices such as a smartphone or tablet, Apple see's the technology being widely adopted into smart clothing, smart windows, applications in vehicles, furniture and more. One of the inventors on the patent previously worked for a company where they made flexible medical devices, skin-mounted epidermal electronics and even next gen flexible processors. So this is a serious invention that is likely to work through the system over time and eventually to market. It's not just pie in the sky thinking.
Traditional displays and touch sensors mounted in a device may be subject to stress-induced failures. As devices with flexible displays are being considered for the future, Apple has to invent new and improved input-output methodologies to accommodate such displays.
Apple notes that their invention relates to a flexible input-output device such as a display or a display with integrated sensors and haptic output may be formed from an elastomeric substrate layer.
The substrate layer may have signal paths to which an array of electrical components may be mounted. Openings or thinned areas may be formed in the elastomeric substrate layer between the signal paths.
An array of through-hole openings may be formed in the substrate to create a mesh-shaped substrate that can be stretched in one or more dimensions. The signal paths that extend between the openings to interconnect the electrical components may have serpentine shapes that help to accommodate stretching.
A display or other component in an electronic device may have stretchable lighting structures. A stretchable lighting unit may, for example, have a stretchable light guide formed from a sheet of elastomeric material and a stretchable light source. The stretchable light source may be formed from light-emitting diodes that are coupled to each other using stretchable signal paths such as signal paths formed from serpentine signal lines.
Apple's patent FIG. 18 noted below is a perspective view of an illustrative stretchable lighting unit in accordance with an embodiment of this invention.
Apple's patent FIG. 18 is a key figure to this invention. In this figure we're able to see a perspective view of an illustrative stretchable lighting structure 100 which could include a stretchable light source #102 and stretchable light guide #104.
The stretchable light guide may be formed from a stretchable transparent layer such as layer #112. This Layer may be formed from a sheet of transparent elastomer such as a stretchable clear plastic (e.g., silicone, etc.).
Light may be emitted into the interior of this layer along the edge (edge surface) #116 or may be otherwise launched into layer #112. In the example of FIG. 18, the light source has a plurality of light-emitting components #24 (e.g., components containing light-emitting diodes and/or other circuitry) along the edge that are electrically connected to control circuitry and/or each other using paths #42 (e.g., stretchable serpentine signal paths or other stretchable signal paths). Light from the components in source #102 is launched into layer (light guide layer) #112 and is distributed throughout the layer by total internal reflection.
All or selected parts of layer #112 may be provided with light scattering structures such as light scattering features #114 of FIG. 18. Light scattering features may be formed from protrusions, recesses, patterned coating material on the surfaces of the layer, embedded microbeads, other light-scattering particles, or other embedded structures, and/or other structures that scatter light out of the entire layer.
Apple's patent FIG. 19 above is a perspective view of a stretchable lighting unit showing how a lighting unit may be stretched by a user; FIG. 43 is a perspective view of an illustrative stretchable light guide that is conforming to a curved surface of an object or device.
Apple's patent FIG. 17 is a schematic diagram of illustrative input-output devices for an electronic device that include a stretchable lighting unit and other structures; FIG. 2 is a perspective view of an illustrative flexible input-output device having an array of components; is a perspective view of an illustrative flexible input-output device that has been deformed into a dome shape – like a mouse.
Applicable to Traditional Types of Devices
Apple notes that their latest technology could apply to form all or part of a future tablet computer, laptop computer, a desktop computer, a monitor that includes an embedded computer, a monitor that does not include an embedded computer, a display for use with a computer or other equipment that is external to the display, a cellular telephone, a media player, a wristwatch device or other wearable electronic equipment.
Also Applicable to All-New Applications and Devices
More interesting in context with this invention, Apple future notes that their invention could apply to future equipment that is integrated into furniture, equipment that is integrated into a vehicle, equipment that is built into windows or architectural elements in a building, a kiosk, seating, clothing, a strap for a bag or watch, a lanyard or other structure for supporting a pendant device, a cover or other enclosure for a portable device (e.g., a bag, a computer case, a phone case, a tablet computer cover, etc.), or other suitable device.
Apple notes that these future flexible display may include light-emitting pixels based on organic light-emitting diodes, discrete crystalline light-emitting diode dies (sometimes referred to as micro-light-emitting diodes or micro-LEDs), or other suitable pixel elements." Interesting enough, Apple acquired LuxVue in 2014 that was on the cutting edge of micro-LED technology.
Apple's patent application 20170040306 is actually a continuation patent that was filed back in Q4 2016. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
About Apple's Sr. Emerging Display Technologist
One of the inventors listed on Apple's patent filing is Yung-Yu Hsu, a Sr. Emerging Display Technologist. He's noted as a seasoned mechanical and materials research engineer/scientist with extensive experience in design, microfabrication and testing of microelectronic packaging, sensing technology and flexible/conformal/stretchable electronics for wearable and medical applications.
Prior to working at Apple, Hsu worked at MC10 covering medical devices such as flexible sensors (temperature, contact, force, ECG) for interventional catheters, to flexible and stretchable wearable devices such as skin-mounted epidermal electronics.
The Skin ID Tattoo was a one-time project Motorola and Google. Patently Apple covered this in a report three years ago titled "Motorola Skin Tattoo Patent Contains Bizarre Big Brother Twist." Our original report on this was posted in 2013 titled "Apple, Motorola Look to New Authentication Methods." In the latter report Walt Mossberg interviewed Regina Dugan about this technology. Dugan had worked for DARPA and eventually went on to work for Google and now Facebook.
Lastly, in addition to wearable devices, Hsu was leading the mechanical and materials design and process integration for embedded ultra-thin chips (micro drivers and processors, etc.) and stretchable interconnects.
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