Apple Invents Equipment designed to Integrate Electronics into Fabrics for Future Products such as Smart Apple Watch Bands & more
Patently Apple has covered 32 patents relating to smart fabrics since 2017 when we created this archive after recognizing that this had become a patent trend. At least two of the patents specifically deal with specialized equipment that will manufacture smart fabrics (01 & 02).
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple titled "Fabric with Electrical Components" that discusses the manufacture of smart fabrics with specialized equipment that could be used to form fabric with integrated electrical components.
One of the first smart fabric products that Apple has brought to market was the iPad Pro Smart keyboard folio. Many smart fabric-based projects have been patented and are being explored for the future. Three of the promising one include touch based fabric for over-ear headphones, Apple Watch Bands and VR Gloves.
Apple begins their patent application by noting that it may be desirable to form bags, furniture, clothing, and other items from materials such as fabric. Fabric items generally do not include electrical components. It may be desirable, however, to incorporate electrical components into fabric to provide a user of a fabric item with enhanced functionality.
However, it can be challenging to incorporate electrical components into fabric. Fabric is flexible, so it can be difficult to mount structures to fabric. Electrical components must be coupled to signal paths (e.g., signal paths that carry data signals, power, etc.), but unless care is taken, signal paths may be damaged, or components may become dislodged as fabric is bent and stretched.
It would therefore be desirable to be able to provide improved techniques for incorporating electrical components into items with fabric.
Apple's invention covers interlacing equipment (e.g., weaving equipment, knitting equipment, braiding equipment, etc.) that may be provided with individually adjustable components.
The use of individually adjustable components may allow electrical components to be inserted into and/or embedded in the fabric during the creation or formation of the fabric.
Electronic devices, enclosures, and other items may be formed from fabric such as woven fabric. The woven fabric may include strands of insulating and conductive material. Conductive strands may form signal paths through the fabric and may be coupled to electrical components such as light-emitting diodes and other light-emitting devices, integrated circuits, sensors, haptic output devices and other circuitry.
The interlacing equipment may create a gap between first and second fabric portions during interlacing operations. The gap may be a void between fabric portions or the gap may be a position or location between fabric portions. An insertion tool may insert an electrical component into the gap, and the electrical component may be electrically coupled to conductive strands in the gap.
Interlacing operations may be uninterrupted during the insertion process, if desired. Following insertion and attachment of the electrical component, interlacing operations may continue and the electrical component may be enclosed in the fabric.
In some arrangements, the gap between the first and second fabric portions may remain in place after the electrical component is enclosed in the fabric. In other arrangements, the first and second fabric portions may be pulled together such that the gap is eliminated after the electrical component is enclosed in the gap.
The fabric may have a bulge where the electrical component is located, or the fabric may not have a bulge where the electrical component is located (e.g., the fabric may have substantially uniform thickness across locations with electrical components and locations without electrical components, if desired).
Later in the patent Apple more specifically notes that the end products for next-gen fabric intertwined with electronics could relate to electronic devices such as a smartphone, computer, or other portable electronic device and item #10 noted in patent FIG. 1 below, may form a cover, case, bag, or other structure that receives the electronic device in a pocket, an interior cavity, or other portion of item #10. Apple's iPad Smart keyboard folio uses fabric with an interior cavity containing electronics, for example.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a schematic diagram of an illustrative fabric item; FIG. 11 is a perspective view of illustrative equipment that may be used to form fabric with electrical components; and FIG. 12 is a cross-sectional side view of illustrative fabric with an electrical component.
To get into the finer details of this invention, check out Apple's patent application 20200283935 here. While Apple's patent application was filed for in March 2020, some of the original work dates back to 2019. Today's patent application incorporates some of their 2019 provisional patent.
This specific patent application credits 16 engineers. Two of the inventors include:
(1) Didio Gomes: An Apple Engineer who came from Canada. He previously worked at Barrday Inc. in Cambridge Ontario Canada. responsible for all production including over 60 technicians and staff and more than 20 Dornier Weaving Machines producing a wide range of products from high end industrial to aerospace and military protective aramids (Kevlar, Twaron).
(2) David Kindlon: Design Engineer – Special Project Group at Apple. Kindlon has more than 20 years' experience leading small design/fabrication teams creating unique devices quietly and quickly.