Apple researching modular light switches to expand HomeKit

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware
Apple is looking at expanding the functionality of HomeKit with new modular wall units to replace light switches that can provide granular control of devices and location sensing for items or electronics in a home.

Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsider
Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsider


In a patent granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and titled "Modular wall unit system," Apple outlines a way that could allow consumers to "more easily customize, scale, and reconfigure their homes in a more effortless and user friendly manner."

The system centers on wall modules or fixtures that are controlled by processors and could be configured to transfer electrical power to items that a plugged into it. This unit would also include a communication module that could receive commands and send data.

At a basic level, this means that users will be able to turn a device on and off remotely, much like a smart plug. It doesn't necessarily have to be a power outlet either, as Apple notes that the unit could be a light switch, temperature control module, or another type of button.

Credit: Apple
Credit: Apple


But the wall unit system could go far beyond a simple built-in smart plug. Apple notes the unit could include additional sensors or components, including an accelerometer for orientation, a magnetometer that could be used as a compass, and a self-orientation module that could use an antenna array to communicate with other units to calculate the angle of the arrival of communication to the device.

Additionally, there are other mechanisms that could be used to determine the location of nearby devices and the angle of received communications. Apple says that technologies such as radar, IEEE 802, ultrasonic communications, or Ultra Wideband (UWB) could be used.

The UWB integration could allow these wall unit modules to more precisely locate a device like an iPhone within a home. Recent models, like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 lineups, have UWB chips.

Integration with iPhone UWB could allow for granular control of smart home objects and much more precise in-home geolocation. It could also allow a user to take advantage of short-range and low-power data transfer. Apple notes that the system could even be used to generate a more accurate floor plan of a home.

Credit: Apple
Credit: Apple


"The method may further comprise: receiving orientation data from the host unit and the one or more additional host units; and determining a physical orientation of the host unit and the one or more additional host units based on the orientation data, wherein generating a floor plan for the building is further based on the determined physical orientations of the host unit and the determined physical orientations one or more additional host units," the patent reads.

The patent lists Travis McQueen; Clark Della Silva; Scott G. Johnston; Wade Barnett; and Trevor McQueen as its inventors. Many of those inventors have also been named on HomeKit-related patents describing technology that could track users through a home, possibly to tailor temperature control or music playback.

Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, so patents are a poor indicator of when or if a particular feature or technology will actually make it to market.

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patchythepirate

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 9
    22july201322july2013 Posts: 2,658member
    The (very large) patent claims that the device would have built-in AC to DC converters so you could plug your DC device (eg, a phone) into the wall without needing an AC/DC power brick. It also mentions having a small amount of memory for booting, 10KB, but doesn't mention having a battery. It also mentions that the expected lifetime of the device will be 40+ years (which is why a battery is unlikely.) It mentions that the device uses wireless ranging to measure distances to other devices in the house. There are lots of ideas described in this patent. It feels like it's about 50 pages long. There are lots of ideas in this patent. None of them feel particularly novel and most feel obvious.
    patchythepirate
  • Reply 2 of 9
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,642member
    Apple needs to acquire ring(closest manufacturer than follows Apple’s design) and gain control over their dream of privacy and the smart home.

    Amazon, Google and other scumbag companies sticking their dirty fingers into this market are ruining the dream.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 9
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,932member
    Beats said:
    Apple needs to acquire ring(closest manufacturer than follows Apple’s design) and gain control over their dream of privacy and the smart home.
    That’s not gonna happen! Amazon owns Ring.
  • Reply 4 of 9
    Apple_BarApple_Bar Posts: 116member
    Beats said:
    Apple needs to acquire ring(closest manufacturer than follows Apple’s design) and gain control over their dream of privacy and the smart home.

    Amazon, Google and other scumbag companies sticking their dirty fingers into this market are ruining the dream.
    Ring???? That’s garbage owned by Amazon. 
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 9
    tedz98tedz98 Posts: 75member
    Amazon already owns Ring.
  • Reply 6 of 9
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    Okay, so Apple develops it, releases it.

    And drops it in four or five years?


    GeorgeBMacmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 7 of 9
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 10,713member
    A significant improvement would be a smart switch that could control specific HomeKit products -- mostly lights.

    I installed two Homekit overhead lightbulbs in my grandson's room and they work great and he loves them.  Their on-off is controlled by the light switch by the door while color & brightness is controlled by his iPhone or iPad.  And that works well.

    But, I would like to install some Homekit controlled light strips but they would have to plug into a plug that is not controlled by the light switch -- which means the on-off function could only be controlled by his iPhone or iPad -- which would be very inconvenient.
    ...  A smart, Homekit light switch could alleviate that problem without doing any rewiring.
  • Reply 8 of 9
    Sun90Sun90 Posts: 1member
    A significant improvement would be a smart switch that could control specific HomeKit products -- mostly lights.

    I installed two Homekit overhead lightbulbs in my grandson's room and they work great and he loves them.  Their on-off is controlled by the light switch by the door while color & brightness is controlled by his iPhone or iPad.  And that works well.

    But, I would like to install some Homekit controlled light strips but they would have to plug into a plug that is not controlled by the light switch -- which means the on-off function could only be controlled by his iPhone or iPad -- which would be very inconvenient.
    ...  A smart, Homekit light switch could alleviate that problem without doing any rewiring.
    What switch do you use? Unfortunately with hue bulbs I can’t switch off otherwise the connection is lost. I would be really interested to find a safe HomeKit switch that I can use with normal lights or Hue lights (without using the new hue switch wall as it requires battery) 
  • Reply 9 of 9
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 10,713member
    Sun90 said:
    A significant improvement would be a smart switch that could control specific HomeKit products -- mostly lights.

    I installed two Homekit overhead lightbulbs in my grandson's room and they work great and he loves them.  Their on-off is controlled by the light switch by the door while color & brightness is controlled by his iPhone or iPad.  And that works well.

    But, I would like to install some Homekit controlled light strips but they would have to plug into a plug that is not controlled by the light switch -- which means the on-off function could only be controlled by his iPhone or iPad -- which would be very inconvenient.
    ...  A smart, Homekit light switch could alleviate that problem without doing any rewiring.
    What switch do you use? Unfortunately with hue bulbs I can’t switch off otherwise the connection is lost. I would be really interested to find a safe HomeKit switch that I can use with normal lights or Hue lights (without using the new hue switch wall as it requires battery) 

    I don't.
    They LifX bulbs in overhead sockets that connect directly to Homekit.  We control by either the regular wall switch (on/off) or by Homekit or by the LifX app.

    But, for the most part, it's just the wall switch that gets used to simply turn them off when we leave the room.  Unfortunately, that won't work with a light strip because the outlet we would have to use is not switched, it's always on.
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