Apple invents retractable motorized iPhone screen protector

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 2015
In continued attempts to prevent costly display damage due to accidental drops, Apple has devised a system that automatically extends retractable tabs above an iPhone's screen when a drop event is sensed, thereby creating a buffer zone between delicate glass and the ground.


Source: USPTO


Despite concerted industry efforts to develop resilient display cover materials, devices like iPhone are still woefully prone to suffering catastrophic damage when dropped on hard surfaces. Apple addresses the problem in a new patent application titled "Active screen protection for electronic device," published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday.

The basic idea is to outfit an iPhone or similar device with a series of retractable tabs that, when activated, deploy outward above the screen, creating a gap and reducing the chance of contact with a hard surface. In some cases, the protectors might curve over the screen, collapse or otherwise absorb impact forces. Apple has in many ways invented a smart shock absorber.




In certain embodiments the tabs are installed around a screen's periphery, flush with the display or surrounding chassis. Tab material varies depending on construction, though Apple says both flexible and rigid plastics, polymers, thin metals or other composites are suitable.

Powering tab movement are motors or actuators attached to a mechanism similar to a rack and pinion drive. Each motor is operably connected to a pinion that in turn meshes with one or more screen protectors, translating rotational motion into linear motion. Alternatively, an actuator might directly interface with a given tab.




The job of drop sensing falls to a variety of components, most of which already come installed in modern iOS devices. Positioning sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes, or environmental detectors like altitude sensors, are obviously well suited to the task, but Apple also notes cameras can detect proximity to a fast-approaching object (the ground) with specialized motion capture software. In another example audio components can be used to determine height, speed and other metrics by emitting and capturing reflections of ultrasonic pulses.

After sensing a drop event, extending a device's screen protectors and absorbing the fall, Apple's system again taps its sensors to confirm motion has ceased. Once a drop event ends, or a preset timer expires, the mechanism returns the screen protectors to a retracted position.




Apple has in the past shown interest in active fall protection for its portable product lineup, but has yet to integrate patented designs into shipping hardware. Instead of elaborate motorized mechanisms and complicated mechanical solutions, the company has chosen to focus on decidedly less exotic -- though just as complex, if not more so -- work on material-level improvements. For example, the latest iPhone 6s models incorporate specialized Corning glass that flexes to support 3D Touch input, while remaining resistant to surface scratches and breakage.

Apple's active screen protector patent application was first filed for in April 2014 and credits Tyson B. Manullang, Stephen B. Lynch and Emery A. Sanford as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 47
    jdwjdw Posts: 1,310member
    Now that's pretty amazing!
  • Reply 2 of 47
    Neat idea.

    I wonder how they'd prevent water and dirt from getting into this new opening and clogging the mechanism (or worse, damaging the phone's internal circuitry)? I'm sure they'd have a solution... just curious what it'd be.
  • Reply 3 of 47
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,274member

    This is way too kludgy. Why not miniature airbags!? They'd be better served investing more in materials science and coming up with a screen material that does not crack or shatter.

  • Reply 4 of 47
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,729member
    dewme wrote: »
    This is way too kludgy. Why not miniature airbags!? They'd be better served investing more in materials science and coming up with a screen material that does not crack or shatter.
    Well that would be the holy grail and Apple and others are continuously trying to develop such 'magical' material. But yeah, this sounds like a bag of hurt to me, and it will add bulk.
  • Reply 5 of 47
    dewme wrote: »
    This is way too kludgy. Why not miniature airbags!? They'd be better served investing more in materials science and coming up with a screen material that does not crack or shatter.

    Airbags you'd only be able to use once, then replace.
    Also if it includes some kind of pyrotech it's likely more dangerous. Overall, I like the idea which reminds me of the protection systems used in convertibles in case of roll over.
    Surely, more robust material is the solution at root level and would be best avoiding added weight, ugliness, size and cost. And I have to say that over the last years some good progress has been made. Give it a few more years and maybe we will be there.
  • Reply 6 of 47
    juandljuandl Posts: 230member
    Might be reason why Apple still holds that 'Liquid' Metal deal. Looking for ways to cheaping process and still be ultra resistant.
  • Reply 7 of 47
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,697member
    dewme wrote: »
    This is way too kludgy. Why not miniature airbags!? They'd be better served investing more in materials science and coming up with a screen material that does not crack or shatter.

    Why not throw in a parachute that automatically deploys with your airbags. ;)
  • Reply 8 of 47
    Pretty cool ideas. I wonder if this is even worth it? We have many drops at our company and most are where the corner and/or sides hit the ground first...not the screen flat on the ground...

    Still cool and love the concept...
  • Reply 9 of 47
    Quote:



    Originally Posted by WonkoTheSane View Post

     
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DewMe View Post



    This is way too kludgy. Why not miniature airbags!? They'd be better served investing more in materials science and coming up with a screen material that does not crack or shatter.




    Airbags you'd only be able to use once, then replace.

    Also if it includes some kind of pyrotech it's likely more dangerous. Overall, I like the idea which reminds me of the protection systems used in convertibles in case of roll over.

    Surely, more robust material is the solution at root level and would be best avoiding added weight, ugliness, size and cost. And I have to say that over the last years some good progress has been made. Give it a few more years and maybe we will be there.

    Same here. Made me think of those pop-up head protectors.

     

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

     
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DewMe View Post



    This is way too kludgy. Why not miniature airbags!? They'd be better served investing more in materials science and coming up with a screen material that does not crack or shatter.




    Why not throw in a parachute that automatically deploys with your airbags. image

    In the event that a parachute could not deploy in time, may I suggest a tertiary system of harpoons that would fire and cling the phone to the closest surface.

  • Reply 10 of 47
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    dewme wrote: »
    This is way too kludgy.

    so were the first cell phones. and computers. and...
  • Reply 11 of 47
    jupiteronejupiterone Posts: 1,564member
    Why not throw in a parachute that automatically deploys with your airbags. ;)

    Butter should be flash-applied to the backside of the phone which would assure it would hit the ground, butter side down (screen side up). They could sell replacement packs with your choice of butter, peanut butter or jam. :D
  • Reply 12 of 47
    I can't wait to see what Samsung does with this idea, but I can do without the "people have been dropping their phones for years so Apple didn't invent anything" comments that are sure to follow.
  • Reply 13 of 47
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,418member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

    Why not throw in a parachute that automatically deploys with your airbags. image

    Hah!  This is just SO impractical...I scoff at your proposal!

    Clearly, the solution is mini-drones that swoop in whenever needed -

    this is what Amazon has been developing them for!

  • Reply 14 of 47

    A patent that only serves as a defensive measure and would be unlikely to ever be implemented.

  • Reply 15 of 47
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,418member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Slprescott View Post

    I wonder how they'd prevent water and dirt from getting into this new opening and clogging the mechanism (or worse, damaging the phone's internal circuitry)? I'm sure they'd have a solution... just curious what it'd be.

    ...Precision?

  • Reply 16 of 47
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 3,430member
    Yay, more crazy patent filings that exist only to serve as potential lawsuit tools.
  • Reply 17 of 47
    mejsricmejsric Posts: 152member
    A patent that only serves as a defensive measure and would be unlikely to ever be implemented.

    Im 100% sure that this won't be implemented. This is only good if drop on flat surface... It also destroy the simplicity design of iPhone,


    But if Samsung read this patent.. Probably they will release it first.
  • Reply 18 of 47
    jasenj1jasenj1 Posts: 923member

    My Otter box case already provides a "buffer zone" between the screen and the ground. Perhaps rather than focusing on thinner and lighter Apple ought to focus on robustness. For me, my iPhone is a delicate piece of machinery that should be cocooned in a protective shell.  

     

    Perhaps shift the entire design to delicate inner workings with a variety of protective & destructible casings - like bands on an aWatch.

  • Reply 19 of 47

    I've not read the it, but some patents are trojan horses, constructed to harbor one or more claims that are really intended to shore up some other idea that someone is trying to protect. It's not uncommon for several patents to be issued around a core invention, some of them seeming to have little to do with it. The hope is that, if one patent fails, some claim in an ancillary patent will prevail.

  • Reply 20 of 47
    hodarhodar Posts: 357member
    Love the concept, however I would suggest using electro-magnets to deploy/retract instead of a motorized gear. Faster, cheaper, immune to dirt and can be made much smaller.
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