Yesterday the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to a possible future Apple Watch that will introduce an optical sensor that is able to read user gestures as a form of input, replacing its current digital crown. The sensor could also be used to measure biometrics including heart rate, a respiration rate, blood oxygenation level, a blood volume estimate, blood pressure and more. Our report also briefly covers another granted patent issued yesterday that relates to Apple's "Car Keys" feature.
Apple's newly granted patent titled "Watch with optical sensor for user input," reveals Apple's work on a future Apple Watch using optical sensors as viable user input.
Apple notes that while the Apple Watch can include one or more user input components, such as crowns, dials, and/or buttons, at an external surface for receiving input from a user, the digital crown occupies space on the watch that could otherwise be occupied by other components of the watch.
Some user input components include moving parts, which are susceptible to wear. User input components can also be susceptible to damage resulting from impact during normal use or when the watch is inadvertently dropped.
Embodiments found in Apple's granted patent provide a watch with user input components that employ an optical sensor to receive input from a user. The input components provide an ability for a user to interact with the watch in a manner similar to how a user would interact with a crown that is rotatable and/or translatable.
For example, the user can provide motions and gestures near the input component that the input component can detect and interpret and user inputs to control an aspect of the watch. The motions and gestures provided by the user can be directly detected with optical systems of the input component, so that the number of moving parts are reduced and space within the watch is more efficiently utilized.
As illustrated in both Apple patent FIGS. 1 & 2, the proposed "optical sensor" on a future Apple Watch could replace the traditional Digital Crown or become a secondary input mechanism.
Apple's patent FIGS. 7 & 8 illustrate a user moving their finger in a downward motion across the new optical sensor which can detect motion, position, orientation, speed, acceleration, contact, and/or proximity of the user (e.g., finger, hand, or limb of the user. Once the user input has been detected, this information may be used to output or change information and images that are presented on a display or user interface of the watch.
In FIG. 9 above, Apple illustrates that the input component can be configured to detect user input at one or more distances away from the sensor. The distance #90 can be zero (e.g., contacting the input component #40) or non-zero. The distance #90 can be determined based on the light source, the window, and/or the optical sensor.
In Apple's patent FIG. 3 above, the Apple watch can include components for performing various functions, including interacting with a user. For example, the display can provide visual (e.g., image or video) output for the watch and include an input surface for one or more touch input devices such as a touch sensor, force sensor, temperature sensor, and/or a fingerprint sensor. It can further include the input component #40 for receiving input from a user.
To view more details, review Apple's granted number 11,209,783.
Car Keys: Enhanced Automotive Passive Entry
Another granted patent of interest published yesterday by the U.S. Patent Office was one titled "Enhanced automotive passive entry." This is a Project Titan patent relating to Apple's Car Keys that we originally covered as a patent application in 2018, two years prior to Apple introducing this feature at WWDC 2020. Apple was first granted this patent in 2019.
Yesterday, Apple was granted their second patent for this invention based on the addition of 23 new patent claims to better protect this invention against patent trolls and competitor. You could review yesterday's granted patent to review these new patent claims here.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 above shows a vehicle with an LF location system; FIG. 2 shows the internals of a key fob. Apple's Car Keys advanced the system to allow users to simply use their iPhone to gain entry into their vehicle. Another patent was granted to Apple for that this past summer that you could review here.