Patently Apple posted a report on December 23 titled "A new Smart fabric Patent from Apple Surfaced this week in Europe for Smart Clothing and much more." Apple's patent FIG. 1 of that patent illustrated that the focus of the patent was on a "Fabric-Based Item." Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to smart fabrics again but this time around the focus of the patent is on a "Strand-Based Item." Specifically, Apple points to a future Apple Watch Band with smart fabrics that could both facilitate touch sensitivity controls and buttons.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of an illustrative strand-based item; FIG. 8 is a top view of an illustrative woven fabric in which warp strands on opposing sides of the fabric extend in the weft direction; FIG. 9 is a top view of an illustrative strand-based item such as a wrist band having touch-sensitive regions formed from conductive signal paths in woven fabric; FIG. 10 is a diagram of the wrist band of FIG. 9 showing how touch-sensitive regions can be formed from warp strands that extend in the weft direction to form horizontal electrodes and warp strands that extend in the warp direction to form vertical electrodes.
More specifically, Apple notes that "FIG. 9, strand-based item #10 may include woven fabric #62 (of FIG. 8) that forms a wrist band. The wrist band may be used to hold a device such as device 130 (e.g., an electronic wrist-watch or other device such as device 18 of FIG. 1) against a user's wrist or wrist band 10 may be worn by itself on a user's wrist." Of course this is referring to a future Apple Watch band.
Apple further notes that the "Wrist band may include circuitry such as touch sensor #118 formed from conductive strands in fabric #62 (FIG. 8). The touch sensor may include touch-sensitive regions such as touch-sensitive regions #116.
If desired, the entirety of the wrist band may be touch-sensitive, only a portion of the wrist band may be touch-sensitive, or the wrist band may include discrete regions that form touch-sensitive buttons for performing particular types of user input operations.
For example, touch-sensitive regions #116 may form power buttons, telephone call control buttons, volume control buttons, menu buttons, and/or other suitable buttons.
As with last week's patent filing, Apple notes in this current patent filing that the circuitry built into the fabric could include "discrete electrical components such as resistors, capacitors, and inductors, switches, connectors, light-emitting components such as light-emitting diodes, audio components such as microphones and speakers, vibrators, solenoids, piezoelectric devices, and other electromechanical devices, connectors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMs) devices, pressure sensors, light detectors, proximity sensors, force sensors, moisture sensors, temperature sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, magnetic sensors, touch sensors, and other sensors, components that form displays, touch sensors arrays (e.g., arrays of capacitive touch sensor electrodes to form a touch sensor that detects touch events in two dimensions), and other input-output devices."
The range of future Apple products using smart fabrics in the future could extend beyond an Apple Watch band to include "a removable external case for electronic equipment, may be a strap, may be a wrist band or head band, may be a removable cover for a device, may be a case or bag that has straps or that has other structures to receive and carry electronic equipment and other items, may be a necklace or arm band, may be a wallet, sleeve, pocket, or other structure into which electronic equipment or other items may be inserted, may be part of a chair, sofa, or other seating (e.g., cushions or other seating structures), may be part of an item of clothing or other wearable item (e.g., a hat, belt, wrist band, headband, etc.), or may be any other suitable fabric-based item."
Apple's patent application that was published today was filed back in June of this year. Some of the work on this invention goes back to 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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