Apple has just had a new patent approved for what could become the next major advancement in mobile phone technology in the form of an integrated touch and solar sensor panel; in layman’s terms a solar powered iPhone.
New generations of smart phones have faster electronics, more powerful computer chips, and larger screens with a higher resolution, yet battery technology has changed little, and this is starting to limit further advancements. Phones are becoming thinner and thinner, but they can only be as thin as their battery allows them to be; using a solar panel would avoid that problem.
On Tuesday the US Patent and Trademark Office awarded Apple with patent number 8,368,654 for their ‘integrated touch sensor and solar assembly’. (Related article: New Super Thin Solar Cell Reduces Silicon Wastage by 95%)
The patent described the technology as “integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations that may be used on portable devices, particularly handheld portable devices such as a media player or phone are disclosed. The integrated touch sensor array and solar cell stack-ups may include electrodes that are used both for collecting solar energy and for sensing on a touch sensor array. By integrating both the touch sensors and the solar cell layers into the same stack-up, surface area on the portable device may be conserved. In addition to being used for capacitive sensing, the integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations may also be used for optical sensing.”
It works as a normal solar panel made up of many small solar cells. When a finger passes over the cells it blocks out the light and this is noted by the sensors. An algorithm then switches the device to a touch sensitive mode and it works as a normal touch screen.