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Apple investigating light-up Lightning & USB-C cables with optical data transmission

Apple has shown interest in an illuminated Lightning, Thunderbolt, or USB-C connector receptacle and cable combination, providing users both a new avenue of data transmission, as well as providing feedback on a proper connection being made.

First discovered by AppleInsider, patent application 62208470, titled "Illuminated Printed Circuit Boards for Connectors," was filed by Apple in August of 2016 and made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday. Rather than just a simple LED embedded in a cable, the filing seeks to cover illumination of a port, and the direction thereof.

While Apple does have lights on the 2013 Mac Pro to indicate which port is which, this patent application goes well beyond just simple illumination. In its simplest implementation, the execution of products utilizing the patent may be to assist the user to connect a cable to a device in the dark.

Additionally, the patent filing notes that the lighting may be "colored or patterned" to convey information to a user, such as a proper connection or completion of charging of a device. The diagrams suggest illuminated cabling and receptacles to be used at a small distance on a "tongue" mounted on the connector itself, or flush and inside the connector.

Using the emitted light as another means of communication, the connected device could communicate back and negotiate a protocol between the two devices. After such a negotiation, devices utilizing the patent could include the ability to transfer data at non-standard rates, be able to reconfigure one or more pins in the connected cable for different functions, or force operation at non-standard voltages, according to Apple.

Apple also claims that other types of data such as authentication or identification data may be transmitted or received by a connector inserted into the receptacle as well. How, or if, Apple intends on including this verification, isn't clear.

The company is covering all its bases in regards to filing the patent. Apple has listed USB including USB-C, HDMI, DVI, Ethernet, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, Lightning, test-access port, DART, and UART cabling as possible targets for the technology. A diagram shows something superficially resembling a MagSafe connector, with more pins as well.

The patent filing credits Chia Chi Wu from Taiwan, Zhengyu Li from China, and Zheng Gao from San Jose, Calif as inventors.