Apple's solar cell multitouch panels may harvest energy for future iPhones

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple a patent for an invention that integrates a touch sensor array with a solar panel, allowing for portable device to be both power-efficient and compact.

Patent


Apple's newly-granted U.S. Patent No. 8,368,654 for an "Integrated touch sensor and solar assembly" points directly to the system's use in portable electronic devices like a media player or phone. The technology is arguably most useful in these types of products as consumer demand for larger, power-hungry screens is pushing the limit of battery design.

Instead of merely layering solar cells within the touchscreen's array, the '654 patent calls for true integration, meaning the solar panel can operate as both an energy harvesting component as well as an optical sensor. To accomplish this feat, the touch panel's electrodes are used for both capacitive sensing and collecting solar energy. Further, because the proposed component includes electrodes that offer the same "coverage" as a typical solar panel, it provides "far more quadrants or pixels" to be used as touch sensors.

Unlike capacitive touch panels, such as those used in Apple's iPhone, the hybrid system's solar panels can be used to simultaneously provide optical-based sensing while capturing and converting energy.

The patent offers a number of examples to illustrate the benefits of having a dual-mode touch panel. In one case, when an approaching object such a finger is detected, the panel may switch to a "capacitive sensing mode" for precise input, increasing the number of capacitive cycles within a given time period. In other situations, the panel may cycle between "solar power/optical sensing mode" and "capacitive sensing mode" depending on whether an object is near the screen. If no object is detected, the number of capacitive cycles is reduced, giving the electrodes more time to facilitate energy production from the solar cells.

Patent


Behind the scenes, a so-called "traffic control" unit, which can be either a hardware or software solution, decides whether generated energy should be allocated to running the device or sent to the battery for storage.

Physically, the capacitive touch sensors and solar cells are separated using isolation trenches, though both are routed through multiplexer circuitry. The MUX is fed either touch signals or power from the solar cells and delivers them to the CPU or power management unit, respectively.

While the technology may not be incorporated into the next iPhone Apple releases, the patent could help in cutting valuable space from the handset. With the most recent iPhone 5, Apple used in-cell touch panel technology to bring the phone's depth down to 7.6 millimeters.

Apple first filed for the '654 patent in September 2008 and credits Michael Nathaniel Rosenblatt, Benjamin Lyon, John Benjamin Filson, Steve Porter Hotelling, Gordon Cameron and Cameron Frazier as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 31
    bigmikebigmike Posts: 262member
    Dope.
  • Reply 2 of 31


    I've never understood the value of solar energy for devices you carry in your pocket.

  • Reply 3 of 31
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    If it actually works it would be a great patent to have.
  • Reply 4 of 31
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member
    This is just a "cover your ass" type of patent intended for that far off day when (and if) solar power ever gets to the conversion rates necessary for anyone to really care about it.
  • Reply 5 of 31
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post



    This is just a "cover your ass" type of patent intended for that far off day when (and if) solar power ever gets to the conversion rates necessary for anyone to really care about it.


    Or if CPUs get so efficient that even sh*tty solar cells are good enough.

  • Reply 6 of 31
    gazoobee wrote: »
    This is just a "cover your ass" type of patent intended for that far off day when (and if) solar power ever gets to the conversion rates necessary for anyone to really care about it.
    I could see some use in this. If it allowed even a moderate improvement in battery life it would be great. I imagine right now it would be somewhat cost prohibitive, but it wouldn't red to power the entire device. Imagine if you were able to get 25-30% better battery performance on your devices because they could draw some charge throughout the day. Could be a way to stretch battery life or use a smaller lighter battery for the same device. I think it would be more useful in an iPad type device then a phone tho.
  • Reply 7 of 31
    anonymouseanonymouse Posts: 6,658member


    Why, a device like this could power itself using just the light from the screen.

  • Reply 8 of 31
    tjwaltjwal Posts: 404member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    Or if CPUs get so efficient that even sh*tty solar cells are good enough.



    Assuming the imbedded solar cell has the same characteristics as a regular solar cell, one the size of an iphone screen could fully charge the battery in 2 to 3 hours.  Mine sits on my desk most of my working hours so I could probably get by without ever having to plug it in.

  • Reply 9 of 31
    thttht Posts: 4,127member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Bandman999 View Post


    I've never understood the value of solar energy for devices you carry in your pocket.



     


    Anything to increase the battery life of a device is a good thing. If it extends standby time by say 50% and onscreen time by 20% (pulling numbers out of the air), that would be awesome.


     


    If you read the article or the patent, the patent says that the device will sense if you are touching the display or not. When it is sensing that your are not touching the display, it will auto-switch the touch/solar layer to solar mode and either recharge the battery or help power the device. When your finger approaches, it will auto-switch back to touch sensing mode.


     


    When you are using your phone you are not actually touching the display all the time. Out of 1 hour of playing web browsing, you could only be touching the display 10% of the time. So, if you are using the phone during the daytime, 90% of the time, it could be collecting solar energy and helping extend battery life. Collecting energy while in standby would just be gravy.


     


    I don't know how many watts it can collect though. It's probably not efficient enough and isn't worth the effort, considering we don't see a device with it today.

  • Reply 10 of 31
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,951member
    bandman999 wrote: »
    I've never understood the value of solar energy for devices you carry in your pocket.

    That assumes it only stays in your pocket. Phones on the go, no, you won't get much benefit, but if it's at your desk, table, etc, then maybe. It really depends on the power efficiency, collector area and ambient light.

    ascii wrote: »
    Or if CPUs get so efficient that even sh*tty solar cells are good enough.

    Might even be enough to run an eink tablet indefinitely.
  • Reply 11 of 31
    tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member


    iPhone 5, Apple used in-cell touch panel technology to bring the phone's depth down to 7.6 millimeters.  How thin is thin enough?  Next thing we will hear is future iPhones breaking because they are to thin.

  • Reply 12 of 31
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post





    That assumes it only stays in your pocket. Phones on the go, no, you won't get much benefit, but if it's at your desk, table, etc, then maybe. It really depends on the power efficiency, collector area and ambient light.


    Yup, and when it's in your pocket maybe it can charge off a gyro.

  • Reply 13 of 31
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member


    Again it is a device carried in your pocket.   


    Quote:

    Originally Posted by THT View Post


     


    Anything to increase the battery life of a device is a good thing. If it extends standby time by say 50% and onscreen time by 20% (pulling numbers out of the air), that would be awesome.


     


    If you read the article or the patent, the patent says that the device will sense if you are touching the display or not. When it is sensing that your are not touching the display, it will auto-switch the touch/solar layer to solar mode and either recharge the battery or help power the device. When your finger approaches, it will auto-switch back to touch sensing mode.


     


    When you are using your phone you are not actually touching the display all the time. Out of 1 hour of playing web browsing, you could only be touching the display 10% of the time. So, if you are using the phone during the daytime, 90% of the time, it could be collecting solar energy and helping extend battery life. Collecting energy while in standby would just be gravy.


     


    I don't know how many watts it can collect though. It's probably not efficient enough and isn't worth the effort, considering we don't see a device with it today.


  • Reply 14 of 31
    Don't get excited doubtful we will ever see this patent incorporated in any IPhone
  • Reply 15 of 31

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    Yup, and when it's in your pocket maybe it can charge off a gyro.



     


    Well, it already has a gyro.

  • Reply 16 of 31


    Some rough calculations:


      an iPhone face is about 0.120x 0.060 meters, bright daylight is about 500 W/m^2, if you have a 15% efficient solar cell, that would be about 0.5 Watts of power.


      The iPhone battery is about 5 Watt-hours. If you go through 40% of your charge per day, that is 2 W-hours.


      Lots of caveats (e.g. You lose some efficiency when charging the battery, the whole face might not be cells, most places aren't that bright, 15% may be too high, etc...), but it is at least possible that if you have a bright office and take your phone out for a few hours a day you might be able to avoid charging it for days or weeks at a time. I could at least see a possible use case, though I am not sure the costs (size, weight, $) would be worth it.

     

  • Reply 17 of 31
    froodfrood Posts: 771member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Bandman999 View Post


    I've never understood the value of solar energy for devices you carry in your pocket.



     


    Solar phones will be shipped with an iHat

  • Reply 18 of 31
    People assume the majority of time one carries their phone in their pocket. The same for their iPod. Ironic to note th at the majority of time is in your hands or on a table nearby for one to access at all times, especially outside. Even athletes with iPod minis have them strapped to their arm when exercising. Put a little coupled system on there for power storage and do the same for smartphones or tablets. Even laptops.

    People spend a large portion of their time around sunlight.
  • Reply 19 of 31
    I was hoping apple would patent this technology, came up with a way my self, they should call it
    S. U. N. Display
    Stands for: Solar Unibody Natural, the title is weird yet acronym matches.
  • Reply 20 of 31
    chris_cachris_ca Posts: 2,543member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ndirishfan1975 View Post





    If it allowed even a moderate improvement in battery life it would be great...


    Imagine if you were able to get 25-30% better battery performance


    This would do nothing for battery improvement/performance.


    It would simply reduce the need to plug in to charge.

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