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Apple Reveals Future Headphones will Understand Orientation via Machine Learning & use Siri & Tap Inputs

1 X Cover 9th over-the-ear patent of the year


A number of over-the-ear headphone patents have surfaced in 2019 (01, 02, 03 and 04) with their fifth patent surfacing as a granted patent just over a week ago that covered headphones that will always play the audio correctly no matter how the user places them on their head." In that report we pointed to another three patents recently published by Apple:  01: Foldable Headphones; 02: Low Spring-Rate Band and; 03: Synchronized Telescoping Headphones.


Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published yet another patent application from Apple titled "Headphones with Orientation Sensors," much in the same vein of their recently granted patent.


Yet as close as it is in nature to Apple's recently granted patent, it introduces a whole new set of patent figures and new details such as the headphone inputs may include voice and certain types of taping.   


Apple's invention summary begins with the same kind of description described in their granted patent. Apple notes that an electronic device such as a pair of headphones may be provided with ear cups having speakers for playing audio to a user. Control circuitry in the electronic device may be used in determining the orientation of the headphones on the head of a user and in taking suitable action in response to the orientation. The control circuitry may, for example, reverse left and right audio channel assignments in response to determining that the headphones are being worn in a reversed orientation.


Where the invention differentiates itself is when they being describing the use of machine learning and more.


Apple notes that "During operation, capacitive sensor electrodes may be used by the control circuitry in capturing capacitive sensor ear images that are processed by a machine learning classifier. The machine learning classifier may be used to determine whether the headphones are being worn in a reversed or unreversed orientation.


The capacitive sensor electrodes may include grill electrodes that overlap at least part of a speaker grill. The grill electrodes may be formed on a flexible printed circuit having an opening that overlaps a central portion of the grill in alignment with a speaker.


The capacitive sensor electrodes may also include cushion electrodes that make capacitive sensor measurements through ring-shaped ear cup cushions that surround the speaker grills.


Additional ear image data may be captured using ring electrodes. The ring electrodes may be formed from metal traces on a flexible printed circuit such as a flexible printed circuit that also contains grill electrodes or other electrodes. A flexible printed circuit in each ear cup may include a portion that wraps around the speaker grill and that is surrounded by the cushion of that ear cup.


Apple further notes that software for the headphones may gather and use other information such as accelerometer signals from sensors (e.g., signals indicating that the headphones are in use by a user or is not in use) and may gather and use other information from input-output devices such as button input, voice input, and/or other input from a user).


In addition, a user may, for example, supply input to buttons, touch sensors, accelerometers that detect finger taps.


Apple's patent FIG. 3 below is a simple side view of an illustrative ear cup for over-the-ear headphones; FIG. 6 is a rear perspective view of an interior portion of an ear cup with flexible printed circuit sensor electrodes; FIGS. 8 and 9 are front views of illustrative capacitive sensor electrode arrays having respective Cartesian and polar electrodes.


2 Apple over-the-ear headphones patent  9th such patent since Feb 2019 figs. 3  6  8  9  10


Apple's patent FIG. 10 above is a flow chart of illustrative operations involved in using an electronic device with capacitive sensor electrodes and machine learning.


More specifically, Apple notes that Illustrative electrode patterns for electrodes #40 are shown in patent FIGS. 8 and 9 above. In the examples, the electrodes include a central set of electrodes (e.g., for forming speaker grill electrodes #40C) and an outer set of surrounding electrodes (e.g., for forming ring electrodes #40B and/or cushion electrodes #40A.


The electrodes may have outer electrodes with edges that are aligned with lines emanating radially from a central point (sometimes referred to as radially patterned electrodes, radial-edge electrodes, or polar electrodes). The central electrodes of electrodes may have rectilinearly patterned electrodes having edges aligned with Cartesian axes (perpendicular vertical and horizontal axes) as shown in FIG. 8 or may have additional radially patterned electrodes as shown in FIG. 9 (e.g., the grill, ring, and/or cushion electrodes may have a polar layout).


Apple's patent application 20190238968 that was published today by the U.S. Patent Office was originally filed back in Q4 2018. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time – though rumors persist that Apple may launch new over-the-ear headphones in Q4.


Apple's CEO stated in the company's press release this week: The balance of calendar 2019 will be an exciting period, with major launches on all of our platforms, new services and several new products." Hopefully Apple's new over-the-ear Headphones will be one of those new products


The inventors are listed as Arman Hajati: Lead System Architect, Hardware Technologies, and; Supratik Datta: Hardware Engineering Manager – and more specifically Touch Sensor Architecture & Modeling Engineering Manager.


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