Apple Investigating Ultrasound Tech to Improve Apple Pencil and Touchscreens

Apple may adopt ultrasonic technology in future devices

Apple patents aren’t necessarily a direct indication of what’s coming down the line from the company, but it’s always fun to take a look at what Apple has been toying with at one point or another.

Investigating options and patenting those ideas is standard operating procedure. Apple is certainly no stranger to this, and the latest effort indicates the company is, or has at least attempted to at some point in the past, investigated the idea of using ultrasound-based technology to improve touchscreens and even the Apple Pencil.

A pair of recently-published patent applications from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the first one entitled “Composite cover material for sensitivity improvement of ultrasonic touch screens”, shows that ultrasound technology could boost performance on standard capacitive touchscreens. And if it doesn’t compliment the tech, Apple could replace existing touchscreen technology with this new effort.

How Apple envisions this working: There would be several intermediate layers on the surface of an acoustic touchscreen’s cover material. That would facilitate transducers to transmit ultrasonic waves. The embedded technology would be able to detect those waves along the surface of the device, and those aforementioned layers.

“A user’s finger, a stylus, or another element in contact with the layer would affect the wave, causing reflections. By examining the reflections, knowing the time-of-flight and a wave’s final resting place, the position of the object and even its size could be determined using the data.

By using multiple layers, the difference in data between layers could also reveal the amount of pressure applied, making it usable for features like 3D Touch.”

That second filing is entitled, “Ultrasonic touch detection on stylus”, and, as one might expect, utilizes ultrasonic-based tech to improve the Apple Pencil, or other stylus devices:

“Rows of transducers along the shaft of the stylus would be able to detect where on the stylus’ surface other objects are touching it, again affecting any transmitted waves as with the display filing. While having transducers on one end would help determine where the objects touch in terms of length from the nib of the stylus, multiple rows will also reveal what parts and how much of the surface area of the stylus is in contact.”

The new ultrasonic technology would allow for Apple to implement features that would make it so the Apple Pencil would know not only the orientation that the device is being held, but also just where the user’s hand is on the stylus. That would make tilt functionality even more impressive, and even open up the doors for introducing new concepts and features.

Of course, the fact that these patent applications exist doesn’t mean Apple is moving in this direction. But, if the company is considering the adoption of ultrasonic-based technology, well, things could get interesting.

[via AppleInsider; USPTO (1); (2)]