Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to fabric-based items and, more particularly, to fabric-based items having strands of material with embedded components. This is Apple’s ninth smart fabric patent for 2019.
Apple’s invention covers embedding circuitry into woven materials that could, for example, make a future Apple Watch band, their first smart band that will provide many advantages over today’s bands such as adding audio and tactile input and more.
Although the invention could apply to a wide range of future products such protective covers, advanced versions of Apple’s Smart Keyboard, clothing, furniture, wearable electronic devices, and other items using fabric, the focus for this invention is a future smart fabric Apple Watch band.
Apple states that in some arrangements, it may be desirable to incorporate electrical circuitry into the fabric that doesn’t exist today in Apple Watch bands. Yet if care isn’t taken, fabric-based items may not offer desired features.
For example, fabric-based items may not include desired circuitry for providing a user with output or gathering input or may include circuitry that is bulky, heavy, and unattractive. This is what Apple’s invention is to address.
According to Apple’s invention, a fabric-based item may include fabric formed from intertwined strands of material with embedded circuitry. The fabric-based item may include woven fabric, knit fabric, or other fabric.
The circuitry in the fabric-based item may gather input from a user and from the user’s surroundings. The circuitry may supply visual output, audio output, tactile output, and/or other output.
Apple notes that strands of material may be formed from dielectric materials such as polymers. The strands of material may be formed from joined segments of polymer strand material or other material. Each joined segment may contain a potentially distinct circuit embedded within the polymer strand material. Computer-controlled assembly equipment may select and join customized collections of strand segments to form a strand or set of strands in the fabric to implement desired circuit functions.
Apple further notes that strand segments may include thermoplastic material and may be thermally joined or joined using other joining techniques. Some joined strand segments may include one or more conductive lines.
The conductive lines may run parallel to each other along the length of the joined segments to form circuit interconnects. Conductive lines may be bonded to contact pads on integrated circuits and other embedded components formed from semiconductor dies.
The semiconductor dies may have surface normals that extend parallel to the strands. Control circuitry formed from the integrated circuits embedded in strands of material in the fabric or other control circuitry may be used to control input-output components and other electrical components embedded in the fabric.
Apple’s patent FIG. 1 below is a schematic diagram of an illustrative system with one or more items; FIG. 2 is side view of illustrative fabric.
Apple’s patent FIG. 4 above is a cross-sectional end view of an illustrative strand of material with embedded conductive lines; FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional end view of an illustrative strand of material such as a strand of tubing; and FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional end view of an illustrative strand of material with an electrical component.
More specifically, Apple notes that FIG. 1 may be a smart strap for Apple Watch and it may be coupled to the metal attachment. In the “Control Circuitry #12” could contain microprocessors, microcontrollers, digital signal processors.
In the I/O segment of system 8 may include Sensors such as temperature sensors, pressure sensors, force sensors, gas sensors (e.g., carbon monoxide sensors), particulate sensors, moisture sensors, light sensors, magnetic sensors, capacitive sensors (e.g., sensors for touch or proximity measurements), gesture sensors, image sensors, proximity sensors, touch sensors, button sensors (e.g., switches coupled to movable button members or button regions), sensors that gather other types of input and/or hybrid sensors that include sensor functionality from any two or more of these sensors. Input and output can also be provided using accessories (e.g., other items 10 such as pointing devices, etc.)
Wireless communications can be supported by wireless transceiver circuitry and antennas in devices (#14). If desired, multiple components (#16 can be used together. For example, multiple captive sensor devices may be used together in an array in item (#10) to form a two-dimensional touch sensor. As another example, multiple light-emitting diodes or lasers may be used to form a pixel array that is configured to display images for a user.
Apple’s patent FIG. 16 below is a perspective view of a pair of strands having respective protruding and recessed alignment features; FIG. 17 is a cross-sectional side view of a branching strand.
Apple’s patent application that was published on Thursday Sept. 19th by the U.S. Patent Office was filed back in Q3 2018. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Benjamin Grena: Hardware Design Engineer. Grena got his Ph.D. at M.I.T. working on project involving multi-material multifunctional fibers and much more.
Dan Sunshine: Product Design
Steven Keating: Design Engineer, Special Projects Group. Previously had his doctoral research funded by Google X. See report and video on a project related to 3D printing building structures.
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