Illumination Through Micro­perforation

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Apple has been granted a patent for a technology known as microperforation illumination. The patent describes how a base layer (which could be the shell of a notebook computer, for example) would have multiple microperforations - or little holes, in English - arranged in a specific shape or pattern. The perforations would be so small as to be invisible to the naked eye, but large enough to allow light to pass through, allowing the shape or pattern to become visible when lit.



Now here’s the clever bit. Each micro­perforation would house a microlens that would prevent dust and other residue from passing through while focusing the light from inside the case. The patent details how the microlens would also save power by reducing the amount of light lost to scatter, and thus enable the backlight to be less bright than it would need to be if there was no lens. The microlens could also be angled to change the direction of the light.

In drawings accompanying the patent application, Apple showed the logo on the lid of a MacBook as an example of how mi­croperforation illumination could be used. A key difference between the new technology and the existing method for creating the logo would be that when the backlight was off, the logo would be invisible.

The combination of improving the ef­ficiency of the backlight and making the illuminated zone imperceptible when the light is off, explains Apple in the application, would improve the aesthetic appeal of the device: ‘While providing attractive visual display elements and indicators for a user is very important in many electronic devices, much of the aesthetic appeal of a device can quickly be compromised if the visual display elements do not transmit enough light to be adequately perceived by a user. The aesthetic appeal of a device may also be diminished if inactive visual display elements remain perceptible to the user when in an “off” state.’

Tiny holes drilled in an aluminium case could allow light to pass through selectively without the need for a plastic or glass panel, focused by tiny lenses

Tiny holes drilled in an aluminium case could allow light to pass through selectively without the need for a plastic or glass panel, focused by tiny lenses

Apple’s plans for microperforation illu­mination go deeper than changing the way it displays the logo on a laptop, however. The patent application describes how the surface of the base layer could incorporate a capacitive touch sensor, allowing the illu­minated areas to be used for touch-sensitive controls. These controls would disappear when the device was switched off, or when they weren’t needed.

While it’s not described in the patent application, it’s easy to see that the controls could be displayed and hidden relative to how a device was being used, in effect becoming a hardware equivalent of a context-sensitive software interface. And the base layer could be on almost any device, including peripherals like mice, keyboards, and trackpads. Thus the surface of a trackpad could house buttons that would only be visible when they would make sense contextually.

In addition to a touch sensor on the base layer, according to the patent application, ‘an ambient light sensor maybe connected to the light source, and the pulse-width modulation of the light source may be varied based on the amount of ambient light detected by the light sensor. This may provide additional power savings to the electronic device.’

Apple was also recently granted a patent for a ‘method and apparatus for cooling electronic devices’ which uses a solid state device known as an ionic wind generator to direct air to specific places within a computer. Internal sensors would detect where cool­ing was needed most, and the air would be directed there. According to Patently Apple: ‘This means that it could simultaneously cool down the CPU, GPU and other components such as batteries (in the case of iOS devices and the MacBook), transformers, storage devices, and other components. Yet if the GPU or any other component isn’t being used, the system won’t waste energy trying to cool down what’s not necessary. Just think of it as a “smart” cooling system.’

Apple has been granted thousands of patents, and not all of the technologies they describe make it into products. These two, however, seem to be improvements on fea­tures already present in Apple devices that needn’t incur any great cost. At an educated guess, we’d say both will appear in Macs and iOS devices within the next few years.


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