Apple files new patent application for touch screen with feedback

Apple has brought many innovative features to the way we interact with and use touch screens and continuing their development of the touch screen interface a new patent application has just published for a touch screen that also has a buzzing or tingling feedback built in that works together with the touch sensitive mechanism to take the user experience to new levels.  While this is not strictly a printed electronics approach this is exactly the sort of thing that printed/plastic  electronics manufacturing methods might be applied to.

US20100156818 was filed on 6 April 2009 and published on 24 June 2010.  The inventors are Bobby Burrough and Benjamin Pope.  The application describes how the haptic feedback that can be generated by producing sensations from haptic actuators ( e.g. piezoelectric materials) that are felt by the fingers as they move over the screen.  Some simple examples are described such as varying the sensation felt as the fingers are moved closer or further apart in the pinch movements that enable zooming of the display.  I would imagine that the variations on effects that can be produced are endless and many applications will be developed to make use of this feature once the system is available.

An illustration of the mechanism from the patent application is shown here:

The first claim is:

An apparatus providing multi-touch haptic feedback, comprising a touch pad having a touch sensitive surface arranged to receive a user provided multi-touch event associated with at least two different locations on the touch sensitive surface; a multi-touch detection mechanism operatively coupled to the touch sensitive surface that detects the multi-touch event and generates a corresponding a multi-touch signal; and a plurality of haptic feedback devices operatively coupled to the multi-touch detection mechanism and the touch sensitive surface cooperatively arranged to concurrently provide tactile feedback at each of the at least two different locations on the touch sensitive surface in response to the multi-touch signal.


New Patents granted for Pixtronix – MEMS based light modulation

Two US patents were granted today to Pixtronix for their Digital MEMS shutters designed to replace liquid crystals to deliver low power, high speed light modulation for an innovative display technology.  US7742215 and US7742016 describe the technology used to provide the methods and apparatus for forming images on a projection display utilizing a control matrix to control the movement of MEMs-based light modulators.

This technology was first demonstrated as an alternative to the liquid crystal display, Pixtronix’s display uses a backlight, but unlike most LCDs it also reflects ambient light, allowing for an easier-to-read monochrome e-reader mode. The pixels in the display are made of tiny silicon shutters: micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) that open and close to emit red, blue, and green light in rapid sequence, creating the illusion of a range of colors.  These patents extend protection for the technology into the projector market.

Further details of the technology can be found on their website and a white paper is available for download.

For those of you that like to see the first claim here it is:

1. A projection display comprising: a transparent substrate; a plurality of shutter-based MEMS light modulators disposed on a surface of the transparent substrate, wherein the shutter-based light modulators each include an actuator for driving a shutter, wherein the actuators include first and second compliant beams, which, in response to application of a voltage across the first and second compliant beams, deform towards one another; and projection optics for projecting light modulated by the shutter-based MEMS light modulators onto a display surface to form an image.

The Millenium Technology Prize for 2010 awarded to Prof. Michael Grätzel

The 2010 Millennium Prize Laureate Michael Grätzel is the father of third generation dye-sensitized solar cells. Grätzel cells, which promise electricity-generating windows and low-cost solar panels, have just made their debut in consumer products.  The technology often described as ‘artificial photosynthesis’ is a promising alternative to standard silicon photovoltaics. It is made of low-cost materials and does not need an elaborate apparatus to manufacture. Though DSC cells are still in relatively early stages of development, they show great promise as an inexpensive alternative to costly silicon solar cells and an attractive candidate for a new renewable energy source.

The key patent describing Grätzel’s invention was first filed as a GB patent with a priority date of 17th April 1990.  The technology was published in Nature in 1991 and the first patents were granted in 1994.  US5350644B1 was published on 27th Sept 1994 and has now been cited by over 70 other patents indicating the significance of this invention.  However, it was not until 2009 that mass production of the solar cells began.

The opening sentence of the patent very simply states the essence of the invention: “The invention relates to new transition metal dyestuffs and to their use in photovoltaic cells. These dyes can be coated on titanium dioxide films rendering such devices effective in the conversion of visible light to electric energy”

The first claim reads as follows:

  1. A solar-light-responsive photovoltaic cell comprising a first electrode comprising

    i) a light transmitting electrically conductive layer deposited on a glass plate or a transparent polymer sheet;

    ii) at least one porous, high surface area titanium dioxide layer applied to said light transmitting electrically conductive layer;

    iii) a dopant applied to at least the outermost titanium dioxide layer, optionally also to the second to the outermost and third to the outermost layer, said dopant being selected from a divalent metal ion, trivalent metal ion, and boron; and

    iv) a photosensitizer applied to the dopant-containing TiO2 layer, said photosensitizer being attached to the TiO2 layer by means of interlocking groups, said interlocking groups being selected from carboxylate groups, cyano groups, phosphate groups and chelating groups with conducting character selected from oximes, dioximes, hydroxy quinolines, salicylates, and α-keto-enolates.

Wake Forest University: Patent granted for Fibre-Solar Cell Technology

EP2022108B1 was granted last year and provides the University with a first patent for a new solar-cell technology that can double the energy production of today’s flat cells at a fraction of the cost.  The patent on the technology has been licensed to FiberCell Inc. to develop a way to manufacture the cells. The company, based in the Piedmont Triad Research Park in downtown Winston-Salem, is producing its first large test cells.

The new solar cells are made from millions of miniscule plastic fibres that can collect sunlight at oblique angles – even when the sun is rising and setting.  Flat-cell technology captures light primarily when the sun is directly above.

A diagram from the Fibercell website shows the design structure of the fibre:

First Claim:

1. An apparatus comprising

an optical fiber core (102);
a first electrode (104) surrounding the optical fiber core (102);
at least one photosensitive organic layer (108) surrounding the first electrode (104) and electrically connected to the first electrode (104); and
a second electrode (110) surrounding the organic layer (108) and electrically connected to the organic layer (108).
characterized in that
said first electrode (104) is radiation transmissive.

According to Wake Forrest, to make the cells, the plastic fibers are assembled onto plastic sheets, with a technology similar to that used to create the tops of soft-drink cups. The absorber – either a polymer or a dye – is sprayed on. The plastic makes the cells lightweight and flexible – a manufacturer could roll them up and ship them anywhere cheaply.  A diagram of this arrangement maybe similar to the one found in the patent in Fig. 5 but no details of the manufacture are available.