Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to structures that prevent ingress of contaminants such as crumbs or liquid into keyboards. Liquid ingress around the keys into the keyboard can damage electronics. Residues from such liquids, such as sugar, may corrode or block electrical contacts, prevent key movement by bonding moving parts, and so on. Solid contaminants (such as dust, dirt, food crumbs, and the like) may lodge under keys, blocking electrical contacts, getting in the way of key movement, and so on. Apple's invention is declaring war on crumby keyboards that have been a long standing problem and end-user irritant.
Apple's invention relates to keyboards and/or other input devices that include mechanisms that prevent and/or alleviate contaminant (such as dust, liquid, and so on) ingress. These mechanisms may include membranes or gaskets that block contaminant ingress; structures such as brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps around key caps; funnels, skirts, bands, or other guard structures coupled to key caps that block contaminant ingress into and/or direct contaminants away from areas under the key caps; bellows that blast contaminants with forced gas out from around the key caps, into cavities in a substrate of the keyboard, and so on; and/or various active or passive mechanisms that drive contaminants away from the keyboard and/or prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress into and/or through the keyboard.
In various embodiments, a key includes a foundation, an actuator moveably coupled to the foundation between a depressed position and an undepressed position, and a skirt coupled to the actuator that is configured to form a perimeter around the actuator. The skirt is in contact with the foundation when the actuator is in the undepressed position and in compression between the actuator and the foundation when the actuator is in the undepressed position.
In some examples, the skirt is an elastomer. In some implementations, the skirt may be an elastomer band. The elastomer band may extend from the actuator at an angle between the actuator and the substrate, change the angle at which the elastomer band extends between the actuator and the foundation, extend from all sides of the actuator, define a vent, and be operable to force contaminants into a cavity defined in the foundation using gas forced from the vent.
Below we're able to see Apple's patent FIG. 3A which depicts a first example cross-sectional view of a key assembly of the keyboard #102 of FIG. 1, taken along line A-A of FIG. 1.
In this example implementation, the sides 318A (highlighted within the red circle that we added) of the raised portion are sloped between the key cap #103 and the substrate #216 (or base, foundation, or the like) and change direction to form an acute angle (such as an approximately 55 degree or other acute angle) between the key cap 103 and the substrate when the key cap is undepressed. This may form an "angled" edge.
Apple's patent FIG. 4 depicts a second example cross-sectional view of a key assembly of the keyboard of FIG. 1. As you could see on the right side of the key the gap is larger to capture crumbs or liquid but closes access to the actual key mechanics.
Apple's patent FIG. 6 depicts a third example cross-sectional view of a key assembly of the keyboard of FIG. 1. Here the membrane #613 forms the external surface of the keyboard.
The membrane includes a first layer #625 and a second layer #626. In this example, the first layer is a layer of fabric (such as nylon, polyester, or the like) and the second layer is an elastomer layer (such as silicone or the like). In this way, the membrane may be waterproof while balancing other considerations such as texture, appearance, effect on force curve response, and so on.
Apple's patent FIG. 8F we're able to see another example where the guard structure #828A is configured as a skirt, elastomer band, or the like that forms a perimeter around the key cap #803.
The guard structure forms and maintains a seal between the key cap and the substrate base, foundation, or the like, blocking contaminant ingress. The guard structure may be formed by injection molding liquid silicone to the key cap.
Finally, Apple's patent FIG. 9B depicts an isometric view of the key cap #903 and guard structure #931 of the key assembly. For the sake of clarity, Apple is showing what's beneath the top layer of the key shown in FIG. 8F. The guard structure includes a number of facets including side portions #934 disposed around lower center portions #932 so as to form a "funnel" shape. This allows the guard structure to direct contaminants toward a mouth #933 where the lower center portions meets with the side portions #934.
Apple's patent application was filed back in Q3 2016 and published today by the U.S. Patent Office. There were ten Apple engineers behind this invention. Three of them include Alex Lehmann, Product Design Engineer - Finite Element Analyst; Zheng Gao, Sr. Product Design Manager; and Paul Wang, Product Design Manager at Apple.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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