Apple just received a patent for integrating solar cells directly into touchscreens.
Apple has been working on solar power patents for the iPhone since 2008, but maybe we’re getting closer. Instead of merely slapping solar panels on top of the device or adding layers to the screen, this idea integrates solar into the screen more directly.
How much power this could provide? Who knows. Today’s bulky solar cells can only trickle charge a smartphone battery. A new solar technology that’s only on a 4-inch screen may provide even less power.
Instead of merely layering solar cells within the touchscreen’s array, the ’654 patent calls for true integration, meaning the solar panel can operate as both an energy harvesting component as well as an optical sensor. To accomplish this feat, the touch panel’s electrodes are used for both capacitive sensing and collecting solar energy. Further, because the proposed component includes electrodes that offer the same “coverage” as a typical solar panel, it provides “far more quadrants or pixels” to be used as touch sensors.
Unlike capacitive touch panels, such as those used in Apple’s iPhone, the hybrid system’s solar panels can be used to simultaneously provide optical-based sensing while capturing and converting energy.
When will we actually see this?
Nobody knows for sure. You can be sure that Apple won’t add solar power until they can do it without making the iPhone look like a calculator. Solar iPhones will only become a reality once it can be done without sacrificing the profit margin or key specs like speed, size & weight, and battery life.