Apple’s Next-Generation Devices May Include Environmental Sensors

Source: USPTO.govCurrent Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) devices already feature several types of sophisticated sensors, including accelerometers and a gyroscopes that can detect motion and orientation, respectively. However, future Apple devices may include even more sensors. Two published Apple patents uncovered by Apple Insider suggest that the Cupertino-based company is considering outfitting iPhones, iPads, and “wrist-watch devices” with various types of environmental sensors, including a temperature sensor, a pressure sensor, and a humidity sensor.

In a patent titled “Electronic Devices With Environmental Sensors,” Apple noted that “Electronic devices such as cellular telephones, portable computers, and tablet computers are sometimes provided with audio components such as microphones and speakers. Audio components are often mounted behind open ports in the device that allow sound to pass through the ports to or from the audio components.”

Since adding extra openings for environmental sensors could allow “unwanted environmental materials” into a device, Apple proposed mounting the environmental sensors in the same port where audio components such as microphones and speakers are already found. Like the audio components, the environmental sensors would be mounted within an enclosure that partially surrounds the components. This would allow the sensors to detect the surrounding environment without exposing the interior of the device to harmful outside elements such as moisture.

As noted by Apple, the environmental data would be converted to readable numbers and provided to the user via the device’s display. Apple also proposed that the environmental data could be used to place the device in a “safe mode” if the detected temperature or other environmental condition falls outside of the device’s predetermined range of safe operating parameters.

For example, if an iPhone sensed that the surrounding temperature could cause it to overheat it would activate a “safe mode” that would minimize its chances of sustaining permanent damage. This would be similar to how some electronic devices use an accelerometer to determine if a device is in free fall. If a device senses it is falling, it will secure the hard disk to prevent data loss.

According to Apple, this technology could be applied to a wide variety of electronic devices, including “cellular telephones, media players, other handheld portable devices, somewhat smaller portable devices such as wrist-watch devices, pendant devices, or other wearable or miniature devices, gaming equipment, tablet computers, notebook computers, desktop computers, televisions, computer monitors, computers integrated into computer displays, or other electronic equipment.”

Another patent titled, “Electronic Devices With Temperature Sensors” outlined a similar invention, but focused exclusively on the construction of the temperature sensor. Since electronic devices tend to generate their own heat, Apple proposed placing the temperature sensor on a “button member” that is thermally isolated from the rest of the device through the use of insulating materials. The temperature sensor could also be incorporated into an external switch or button, in order to allow better interaction with the surrounding environment. Although it is not known if Apple will incorporate these environmental sensors into the next generation of devices, it should be noted that the iWatch is rumored to include several medical sensor technologies that would allow users to monitor various biometric data related to health, exercise, and diet.

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