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A recently published patent application discovered by MacRumors reveals that Apple is investigating the use of solar power in versions of their mobile devices -- both handheld devices and portable computers. Integrating solar power into a mobile device holds the enormous potential of extending battery life significantly. However, successfully integrating solar panels into these small devices is not without its challenges.

The major issues described are the limited area available to solar panels, durability, and the "wasting" of space on a portable device. It is due to these problems that solar power has not found its way into mobile devices, not just from Apple, but from all manufacturers.


022306-solarcells_400.png



The most interesting technique described by Apple, however, is the integration of the solar panels behind the actual LCD screen of a portable device. The solar panel would absorb ambient light that passes through the LCD screen of the device. This could eliminate any additional footprint typically required by the solar panels. If successfully implemented, Apple's iPhone, iPod and laptops, could require no outward changes in design to add solar power.

Apple's not the only one exploring this technology as an old (2001) Motorola patent describes the same technique. While several limitations to the technique were described at that time, the issues may have been better addressed in recent years.

Article Link

Patent Application
 

MacinDoc

macrumors 68020
Mar 22, 2004
2,266
5
The Great White North
Well, if you can put the solar panels under the display (I wonder if this may be possible with OLED, although I'm no expert in the area), the increased area available for solar panels may make up for the fact that the light reaching the panels will be partly filtered by the display itself. I wonder how this will work with touchscreen technology, however.
 
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arn

macrumors god
Staff member
Apr 9, 2001
15,703
4,552
I wonder how this will work with touchscreen technology, however.

It apparently works with touchscreen and OLED technology. The motorola patent apparently said that only a small portion of light went through and it was only ideal for certain (black&white) screens. But that was 2001.

http://www.ubergizmo.com/15/archives/2007/05/motorola_patents_solar_lcd.html

This [Motorola] patent also includes word on how solar cells can be added to OLED and touchscreen displays as well.

arn
 
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D4F

Guest
Sep 18, 2007
914
0
Planet Earth
Sounds interesting.
If they manage to combine two power options this might give you some crazy use times.
 
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MacFly123

macrumors 68020
Dec 25, 2006
2,340
0
Cool! So soon we may very well have OLED razor thin displays with solar power and iSight cameras built into the displays themselves :D Sounds good to me!

My only question is how much do your iPods, iPhones, Laptops etc. actually have their screen exposed to the sun??? Don't you usually have your portables in your pocket and your laptops avoiding sun glare when outside??? How much power would this really add then? :confused:
 
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Greenbird600

macrumors member
Jan 9, 2008
33
0
It would certainly be cool if they could do this. Another thing that I think would be awesome is if they found a way that you could attach an ipod or iphone with the solar tech in them to a laptop, and use the ipod/phone's solar panel to charge the laptop, for that extra boost.
 
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MOFS

macrumors 65816
Feb 27, 2003
1,236
208
Durham, UK
Without wanting to put a downer on this but would this work indoors? Computers are energy intense as we know, and I wonder how much energy a solar panel would absorb indoors (where most of the machines created with this would be used), especially if they only absorb a small proportion of ambient light anyway.
 
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junkmailbonzai

macrumors member
Mar 8, 2008
40
0
Bring it on! I am all for not having to charge my electronics as much. This would also be a godsend for hiking, camping, and car trips. Go apple! :)
 
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arubinst

macrumors 6502
May 26, 2008
317
147
Lausanne - Switzerland
So what if...

So what if this is the reason why the back of the new iPhone is rumored to be "black"?

What if it's not black but instead it's a huge solar cell array (dark blue) protected by a thick transparent layer?

I know this sounds insane, but it would be so cool... Well... one can always dream. ;)
 
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David G.

macrumors 65816
Apr 10, 2007
1,112
468
Alaska
:confused: I think that the idea of this tecnology is absorb the light generated by the LCD Screen.

OR, they could have a highly reflective backing behind the screen so they could turn brightness while appearing just as bright. Much more efficient that way.
 
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arn

macrumors god
Staff member
Apr 9, 2001
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:confused: I think that the idea of this tecnology is absorb the light generated by the LCD Screen.

Was that a joke? In case it wasn't, the idea is that sunlight would pass through the LCD onto the solar panels.

Without wanting to put a downer on this but would this work indoors? Computers are energy intense as we know, and I wonder how much energy a solar panel would absorb indoors (where most of the machines created with this would be used), especially if they only absorb a small proportion of ambient light anyway.

They wouldn't _only_ be solar powered. You'd still have the normal battery to use in non-lit situations. It would presuambly just extend your battery life with a constant trickle of power.

arn
 
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anubis

macrumors 6502a
Feb 7, 2003
937
50
Under full bright sunlight illumination, with the solar panels pointed directly at the sun, you're only looking at an electricity generation rate of between 15 and 20 watts with the best polycrystalline solar cells available today, assuming the solar cells cover an entire 1 square foot area. If the solar energy strikes the screen at an oblique (indirect) angle, the energy collection rate begins to fall of dramatically. Indoors, you'd be lucky to generate 1-2 watts.

I'm not saying this is a terrible idea. I'm just saying that best care scenario, it extends your battery life by maybe a minute.

If the point is to collect the light "backscatter" from the screen backlight, it would be a much better use of resources to simply not generate as much backscatter, as the best solar cell efficiency you could hope for would be about 20%. I think LED backlighting mostly solves this problem, rendering the argument moot.
 
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g8bo

macrumors member
Apr 26, 2008
98
0
Switzerland - Zug
So what if this is the reason why the back of the new iPhone is rumored to be "black"?

What if it's not black but instead it's a huge solar cell array (dark blue) protected by a thick transparent layer?

I know this sounds insane, but it would be so cool... Well... one can always dream. ;)

I once made this joke some months ago on macrumors^^ but nobody spend attention to it...
 
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j26

macrumors 68000
Mar 30, 2005
1,508
19
Paddyland
Something like that would be useful in gps style devices (iPhone?), since they're exposed to the sun a lot, but I can't see how useful it would be for a laptop. The amount of time you'd have a laptop open in a situation where it would receive enough light to be useful would be very limited.
 
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kamiboy

macrumors 6502
May 18, 2007
322
0
If only portable devices didn't spend 99,9% of their time in our darkened pockets.
 
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alphaod

Contributor
Feb 9, 2008
22,179
1,234
NYC
Apple is getting busy with all these patents aren't they? I wouldn't be surprise one bit if Apple put a device out with all the patents in one creative mess and everyone would call it a technological phenomenon.
 
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lowbb

macrumors newbie
Jun 28, 2007
16
0
Hong Kong
So what if this is the reason why the back of the new iPhone is rumored to be "black"?

What if it's not black but instead it's a huge solar cell array (dark blue) protected by a thick transparent layer?

I know this sounds insane, but it would be so cool... Well... one can always dream. ;)

but you hold your iPhone with your hand so that the back of the iPhone is covered
so no sunlight can pass through
 
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craigverse

macrumors 6502
Dec 8, 2006
285
0
Reno, NV
I love this sort of article. It's amazing what ideas are out there that may one day be put to use. Keep them coming!
 
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intel

macrumors regular
Aug 17, 2005
111
0
Back in the day when i was 12 i heard you can have semi transparent solar panels, we had those chunky monitors with these weird screen filters and i thought to myself, why not catch some of the light that the monitor puts out, seeing that the screen filters made the monitor dark as ****. (what can i say, i was only 12).

There are many ideas that help recharge the battery of a device being used, using the power that the device is already putting out and is going to waste.

This seems like a good idea if the solar cell catches the light emited from the backlight. I'm not exactly sure how that backlight thing works but this idea would be practical if it is more efficient than using a reflector.

There are also devices/materials that use waste heat to generate electricity. A thin layer over the top of the cpu and beside the battery would do the trick. These divices are like 25% efficient. (That's 25% of the 20% or so that is wasted as heat, whick makes it as useless as a fart in a jar giving you back only 5% of your total power, minus another 3% or so in the losses of recharging the battery leaving you with only 2%. Then if you take into account the energy(/cost) used to add that extra device, you are left with sweet nothingness but bitter remorse for buying a device that is full of ****. Something like the hybrid car phonomenon but only in its own parralel universe with a twist)

Who knows, if you combine all these techs in one neat package without blowing the budget and if it gives me that extra 5 mins on a conversation with a chick that will eventually get me layed, hell, bring it on.
 
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Analog Kid

macrumors 603
Mar 4, 2003
5,772
4,577
Interesting, but most solar cells I've seen are black, and LCDs need to reflect light back up through the panel. Guess I'll have to read the patent...

My only question is how much do your iPods, iPhones, Laptops etc. actually have their screen exposed to the sun??? Don't you usually have your portables in your pocket and your laptops avoiding sun glare when outside??? How much power would this really add then
If the could make this efficient enough, I think it would cause a change in how people use their devices. Place it on the dash of your car, leave it out on the table, put it in a windowed pocket of your purse...
:confused: I think that the idea of this tecnology is absorb the light generated by the LCD Screen.
Um... Study up on your thermodynamics. What you're suggesting wouldn't work for the same reason perpetual motion is impossible.
This seems like a good idea if the solar cell catches the light emited from the backlight. I'm not exactly sure how that backlight thing works but this idea would be practical if it is more efficient than using a reflector.
It won't be more efficient than using a reflector for the same reason as above. A mirror or white diffuser will always be more efficient than converting light to electricity and then back to light.
There are also devices/materials that use waste heat to generate electricity. A thin layer over the top of the cpu and beside the battery would do the trick. These divices are like 25% efficient. (That's 25% of the 20% or so that is wasted as heat, whick makes it as useless as a fart in a jar giving you back only 5% of your total power, minus another 3% or so in the losses of recharging the battery leaving you with only 2%.
All the power going into the CPU comes out as heat, not just 20%. A small fraction will travel down the bus and become heat in a different device, such as the memory, but heat is where it all ends somewhere. The problem with the thermal devices you're describing has been that they typically require much higher temperatures to reach that 25% efficiency than silicon can operate at.
 
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