Apple published a patent application on Thursday covering an embedded environmental sensor capable of sampling both gas and liquids, a component that could one day inform iPhone and Apple Watch owners of potential unseen dangers in their surrounding environment.
As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's application for an "Electronic device with speaker enclosure sensor" details a method by which an environmental sensor is integrated into a device speaker cavity where it can both sample material and enjoy moderate protection from the elements.
Incorporating an environmental sensor within a mobile electronic device is no easy feat. While movement, inertia and positioning components can be embedded deep within a device housing, sensors measuring air quality and other tangible assets must be exposed at least in part to conditions not suitable to sensitive electronics.
Apple proposes positioning the environmental sensor in a speaker enclosure or speaker port, a hardware array that includes a moving diaphragm situated in an empty volume or cavity. As the component is designed to weather the elements thanks to various vents, seals and other supporting features, it is an ideal fit for the proposed environmental sensor placement.
Further, movement of the diaphragm, perhaps under normal operating conditions, draws in, captures and expels air, water and other materials for sampling by sensor circuitry. A mechanically assisted sampling method can be particularly useful in refreshing air or liquids touching the environmental sensor. Without regular motion, sample material can become stagnant, thereby inhibiting accuracy.
Though a shipping version may be far off, or not coming at all, Apple already implements alternative speaker technology in its wearable lineup. Apple Watch Series 2 debuted this year with a speaker system that actively expels water after being submerged in liquid, thus allowing for clear, crisp sound following a swim or shower.
Apple notes the proposed sensor suite can include any number of components, including a temperature sensor, a volatile organic compound sensor, a particulate sensor, a carbon monoxide sensor, a carbon dioxide sensor, an oxygen sensor, an ozone sensor, other gas sensors, a humidity sensor, a moisture sensor, chemical and biological substance sensors and more.
A host device can be configured to take readings from said sensors, perform data analysis, keep logs and issue actionable user notifications. For example, sensor data can be used to issue a visual, audio or tactile alert if a user enters an environment with a high concentration of carbon monoxide or other dangerous gases.
Environmental sensor data can be combined with readings from other sensors, such as accelerometers, to inform more advanced alerts. In one example, a high temperature warning is dynamically adjusted based on user location and movement. Another scenario imagines the presence of high ozone levels, which might trigger an alert warning the user not partake in strenuous exercise.
Whether Apple intends to integrate the IP into a shipping device remains unclear, though a number of product lines, Apple Watch in particular, could benefit from the inclusion of tech described in today's filing.
Apple's environmental sensor patent application was first filed for in May 2015 and credits Fletcher R. Rothkopf as its inventor.