Apple has always been known for filing all kinds of patents without any regards to whether they will be using it in the future or not. The latest patent that Apple has been granted is called as “Integrated touch sensor and solar assembly”.
There are several ‘solar charging’ apps out there which claim to charge your phone by showing a graphic of solar panel on the device’s screen, and many of the users actually believe it! Those apps are actually used to prank your friends, but Apple has filed a patent which will actually allow the phone’s touchscreen to convert light from sun into electricity.
Solar electric systems are attracting a lot of attention, and scientists are working on ways to make the production of such panels cheaper so that it can implement widely. As smartphones are getting bigger and bigger each day, they are also growing power hungry and perhaps solar technology can help a lot as there are limitations in the battery technology. Apple’s U.S. Patent No. 8,368,654 aims to convert solar light into electricity by having the panel within the screen.
We have previously had a French company called as Wysips who found a novel way to use the transparent solar cell films that have been around for a while. They were successful in integrating the solar cell film below the device’s touch layer, however it decreased the screen’s brightness and clarity a bit, and the energy conversion was just 9%, which is a bit on lower side.
Apple’s idea is a bit different, and it should be interesting when it goes into production, but then we know that most of the Apple’s patents don’t actually end up in a real product. Unlike Wysips’ method, instead of just layering solar cells within the touchscreen’s array, the latest patent goes for true integration. According to the ’654 patent, the solar panel can be used as an optical sensor for registering touches as well as producing energy. In order to achieve this, the electrodes in the touch panel function as both, capacitive sensing and collecting solar energy. In addition to this, the electrode components that have been proposed in the patent will lead to the panel having same coverage as a normal mainstream solar panel, and at the same time it will also have more number of pixels that can be used as touch sensors, thus leading to a highly accurate touchscreen.
In order to illustrate the benefits of this dual mode touch panel, the patent includes several examples of how this technology can be used. In one of the cases, when a finger is sensed on the screen, the pane will go into “capacitive sensing mode” in order to collect precise input information. This is done by increasing the number of capacitive cycles at the given time. In other situations, depending on whether there is any object near the screen, the panel will be switching constantly between “solar power/optical sensing mode” and “capacitive sensing mode”. In case there are no objects sensed close to the screen, the capacitive cycles are decreased and electrodes will spend more time producing energy from sunlight.
What’s your thought on this technology?