Apple's IP work is Accelerating for Smart Fabrics with a Wide Array of Possible Products on the Table
On Tuesday Patently Apple posted an IP report about Apple having been granted a patent related to their smart fabric project. Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple titled "Fabric-Based Items with Electrical Component Arrays." Apple envisions a wide array of products that could take advantage of such smart fabrics in the future from a MacBook encasement through to clothing and much more.
Apple's work on smart fabrics has been accelerating over the past year. In the last 12 months Apple has been granted more than 6 patents relating to Fabrics and Smart Fabrics (01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06) and filed at least 6 new patents in the last 13 months on this internal R&D project (01, 02, 03, 04, 05 and 06).
In this particular patent, Apple begins by noting that it may be desirable to form furniture, clothing, and other items from materials such as fabric. Fabric-based items generally do not include electrical components. It may be desirable, however, to incorporate electrical components into a fabric-based item to provide a user of a fabric-based item with enhanced functionality.
However, it can be challenging to incorporate electrical components into a fabric-based item. Fabric is flexible, so it can be difficult to mount structures to fabric. Electrical components must be coupled to signal paths, but unless care is taken, signal paths will be damaged as fabric is bent and stretched. This is what Apple's new fabric centric invention sets out to overcome.
A fabric-based item may include electrical components. A fabric-based item may, for example, have an array of electrical components and one or more layers of fabric. Fabric layers may serve as substrates for electrical components or may be coupled to support structures on which electrical components have been mounted.
Apple's invention notes that electrical components may be mounted to a support structure such as a flexible printed circuit. The flexible printed circuit may have a mesh pattern formed from an array of openings.
Serpentine flexible printed circuit segments may extend between the openings and may interconnect portions of the flexible printed circuit to which the electrical components have been soldered.
The electrical components may be light-emitting diodes or other electrical devices. Polymer with light-scattering particles or other materials may cover the electrical components. The flexible printed circuit and array of components may be laminated between fabric layers or other layers of material.
Apple's invention could relate to a wide array of future devices. Apple list includes the following:
"A laptop computer, a computer monitor containing an embedded computer, a tablet computer, a cellular telephone, a media player, or other handheld or portable electronic device, a smaller device such as a wrist-watch device, a pendant device, a headphone or earpiece device, a device embedded in eyeglasses or other equipment worn on a user's head, or other wearable or miniature device, a television, a computer display that does not contain an embedded computer, a gaming device, a navigation device, in an automobile, airplane, or other vehicle, other electronic equipment, or equipment that implements the functionality of two or more of these devices."
Update 7:45 a.m.: Note that there is no mention of a glove or a health glove in today's patent application as a competing site presents in their byline. This patent clearly outlines what Apple generally envisions for this invention as noted above. Apple's focused patent on a health glove was covered in a specific report that you could review here. The competition's byline is Fake News.
Apple further notes in their filing that If desired, fabric items may be 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 FIG. 10 below is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative fabric layer showing how a conductive strand of material such as a conductive yarn may be selectively brought to the surface of the fabric layer and used to form a contact such as a solder pad for coupling to an electrical component.
Apple's patent FIG. 16 above is a perspective view of an illustrative mesh-shaped (mesh-patterned) flexible substrate populated with an array of electrical components.
Apple's patent FIG. 17 above is an exploded perspective view of an illustrative mesh-shaped (mesh-patterned) flexible substrate and associated layer of material such as a fabric layer or other flexible layer with mating contact pads.
Apple's patent application 20190013275 was originally filed back in February 2018. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Some of Apple's Engineers listed on this Invention
Yung-Yu Hsu: Team Lead, Display Investigations. Hsu's profile notes that he has in-depth technical knowledge in advanced display technology, electronic packaging technology, sensing technology in particular for flexible/conformable/stretchable electronics.
Paul Drzaic: Senior Manager, Emerging Display Technologies. His profile notes that some of his expertise is in printable and flexible electronics, nanotechnology and more.
David Kindlon: Design Engineer Special Projects
One More Thing: Continuation Patents
There's a long list of continuation patents that were published today. Patently Apple only covers continuation patents if its a major Apple project worth focusing on. Continuation patents only involves updating the invention's patent claims and doesn't change the basic foundation of the described invention. Sometimes Apple is adding new or updated technology to keep the invention relevant, sometimes it's simply tweaking the patent claims so that the U.S. Patent Office will grant them a patent. Here are a few of the more interesting continuation patents that you may want to check out.
01: WEARABLE COMPUTER WITH FITNESS MACHINE CONNECTIVITY FOR IMPROVED ACTIVITY MONITORING USING CALORIC EXPENDITURE MODELS (originally filed in 2017.)
03: GLASS ENCLOSURE (originally filed in 2010)
04: ADJUSTING THE BEAM PATTERN OF A SPEAKER ARRAY BASED ON THE LOCATION OF ONE OR MORE LISTENERS (originally filed in 2013)
05: DEVICE ACCESS USING VOICE AUTHENTICATION (originally filed in 2011)
06: MULTI-DIMENSIONAL OBJECT REARRANGEMENT (re Apple Watch, originally filed in 2014)