Apple patents multi-function solar laptop casing

January 29, 2014 // 9:16 a.m.

Tags: #apple #laptop #macbook #macbook-air #macbook-pro #macbook-solar #patent #photovoltaic #solar #solar-power #uspto

Apple has been formally granted a patent on a new casing for laptops which features external displays which can double as a solar charging system to top-up the device's battery.

Originally filed back in 2010 but only granted by the US Patents and Trademarks Office this week, US Patent 8,638,549 describes an 'electronic device display module' which 'may be formed from electrochromic glass and may cover photovoltaic cells and touch sensors - meaning a double-display, touch-sensitive laptop that can charge itself in sunlight.

The patent describes a portable computer - a laptop, in other words - which includes a traditional clamshell design with a keyboard and front-facing display. The rear of the upper panel, however, is described as being made from a variety of materials ranging from the usual - plastic and metal - to the more esoteric - ceramic, fibre, or glass. ' A two-sided display may be formed in which one display is front facing and the other display is rear facing,' the patent explains - echoing the Asus Taichi, which includs a secondary display on the rear of the lid for use in closed tablet mode. 'The displays may share a common light guide layer.' Coupled with later reference to a touch sensor on the rear panel, it's clear Apple's patent could cover Asus' design - and, given it was filed before the launch of the Taichi, could lead to legal troubles for the company if Apple wants to pursue the matter in court.

The most interesting portion of the patent comes in the next paragraph, however. 'The rear plate may be formed from electrochromic glass. Photovoltaic cells may be located under the rear plate and may produce power when activated by an external light source.' In other words: at the press of a button, the rear panel of the laptop can go transparent and allow the device to charge simply by sitting in sunlight. The result, the patent explains for the hard-of-thinking: 'By charging [the] battery with battery charging power [...] battery charge can be extended.'

The fact that Apple has patent the technique doesn't mean that it will produce such a laptop, of course; the company frequently files patents and then never develops the technology into a commercial product. The efficiency of modern solar cells, especially when limited to a footprint equal to the lid of a laptop, means that charging the battery in sunlight alone would be restricted to only the most sunny of countries. As a means of snagging an extra hour or two of use away from a mains socket, however, the design could have promise.

Apple has not publicly commented on the filing.

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