Apple Wins a Second Patent for Force Touch on AirPods 3, AirPods Pro & Apple Pencil using an Incompressible Hyperelastic Material
Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent that relates to the deformable materials used in Apple's AirPods Pro, new AirPods 3 and Apple Pencil housings that accept taps and squeezes to control features on these devices.
Apple's patent FIG. 2A below illustrates an earpiece (AirPods Pro) having a deformable surface as part of a user input component; FIG. 2C illustrates a stylus (future Apple Pencil) having a deformable surface as part of a user input component.
A "press and hold" on the stem triggers the force sensor to kick in and control "transparency mode" and "Active Noise Cancellation mode."
The current Apple Pencil offers "Double-tap to change tools." In the patent it's more of a squeeze to change tools. According to the patent "the term "deformable input section" will refer to a user interface part or section of an electronic device to which a user can apply squeeze, pinch or other forces to distort or deform it and effect an input operation to the electronic device." So, Apple's use of "double tap" would fall into this category.
The housing of the AirPods Pro and Apple Pencil both use an elastomeric material with high incompressibility is called an 'Incompressible Hyperelastic Material or IHM.
Yesterday, Apple introduced their new AirPods 3 that has added force touch as noted in the image below from yesterday's press release. However, force touch on AirPods 3 is limited to playing tunes/Apple Music and answering and ending phone calls. It doesn't offer active noise cancellation and transparency mode like the AirPods Pro model does.
This is Apple's second granted patent for force touch on AirPods Pro and Apple Pencil wherein they've added 20 new patent claims. Below are just a few of the new patent claims.
Claim 1. An input device comprising: a shell that deforms in response to an applied force and defines a sealed region; an incompressible hyperelastic material contained within the sealed region and defining a void, the void containing a compressible element separate from the incompressible hyperelastic material and a volume of the void changing in response to the applied force deforming the incompressible hyperelastic material; and a pressure sensing element communicatively coupled with the void and generating a signal indicative of a pressure within the void.
Claim 2. The input device of claim 1, further comprising: a first inflexible disk positioned within the shell; and a second inflexible disk positioned within the shell, wherein: the incompressible hyperelastic material is positioned between the first inflexible disk and the second inflexible disk; and the pressure sensing element is encased within the incompressible hyperelastic material.
Claim 8. A stylus comprising: an elongate housing, the elongate housing having a cylindrical shape and defining: an external surface that deforms in response to a force applied to the external surface; and an interior cavity of the stylus; a contact point positioned at an end of the elongate housing; an incompressible hyperelastic material contained within the interior cavity and defining a void, the void surrounded by the incompressible hyperelastic material and containing a compressible element separate from the incompressible hyperelastic material, a shape of the void changing in response to the force applied to the external surface; and a pressure sensing element positioned at least partially within the void and generating a signal indicative of a pressure within the void.
Claim 15. A user input mechanism for an electronic device, the user input mechanism comprising: a deformable input section comprising a shell and an incompressible hyperelastic material positioned within the shell, a cross-section of the deformable input section compressing in response to a user applied force; a void positioned within the incompressible hyperelastic material and containing a compressible element separate from the incompressible hyperelastic material, a pressure within the void changing in response to a compression of the deformable input section; a pressure sensor detecting the pressure within the void; and a controller communicatively coupled with the pressure sensor and altering an operation of the electronic device at least partly in response to the pressure satisfying a threshold value.
For more details on the remaining 16 patent claims, review Apple's granted patent 11,153,676.