Apple granted 16 new patents, including voice recognition, solar battery charger

Aug 26, 2011
Tech

This week, Apple was granted 16 new patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for technologies it’s developing for its computer and mobile business, all of which become public record. Among them are some interesting glimpses into what could be the future of Apple products. Detailing a couple of the new patents are TechCrunch […]

This week, Apple was granted 16 new patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for technologies it’s developing for its computer and mobile business, all of which become public record. Among them are some interesting glimpses into what could be the future of Apple products.

Detailing a couple of the new patents are TechCrunch and Apple Insider. They’ve pegged a few of the patents that could have some pretty big effects on Apple’s mobile business. The first is a solar-powered battery charging technology that could be applied to mobile devices and computers.

As TechCrunch explains, the patent is for a solar power source that includes a voltage converter and controller. The converter attaches to the power source through an input cable, and an output cable then runs from the converter to the “electronic load,” which the patent says is a “portable electronic device,” which basically covers everything Apple makes

Here’s a quote from the TechCrunch story:

The voltage converter is configured to monitor an amount of power drawn by the device at its output, while the controller is configured to control the voltage converter in order to reduce the amount of power drawn subsequently, if it goes over a certain predetermined threshold. In other words, it’s a key part to a solar power charging system for electronics.

This isn’t Apple’s first solar battery patent. It also holds one for a backup battery called an “auxiliary solar cell” for mobile devices, and for a method of putting solar power cells on the exteriors of mobile devices.

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The voice recognition tech detailed by Apple Insider is possibly even cooler than charging your phone in the sun. That patent uses voice recognition technology, which seems to be pretty heavily integrated into the upcoming iOS 5, to identify the user of a phone and allow the technology to understand more complex commands.

The patent is for something called “User Profiling for Voice Input Processing,” and you can check out the full patent listing here. As Apple Insider details it, Apple is working on a technology that would allow users to be identified by the sound of their voice, which would allow them to access specific functions in the software. The story points out that current voice recognition technology uses word libraries for commands, and those libraries can get pretty big; there’s also the issue that longer commands can be time consuming for the user.

Apple’s tech would jump both those hurdles by making it more about the sound of the voice rather than the word being spoken.

Here’s a bit from Apple Insider’s story:

The application includes examples of highly specific voice commands that a complex system might be able to interpret. Saying aloud, ‘call John’s cell phone,’ includes the keyword ‘call,’ as well as the variables ‘John’ and ‘cell phone,’ for example.

In a more detailed example, a lengthy command is cited as a possibility: ‘Find my most played song with a 4-star rating and create a Genius playlist using it as a seed.’ Also included is a natural language voice input, with the command: ‘Pick a good song and add to a party mix.’

That’s a little tough for the computer to deal with, having to recognize all the words individually and then deal with the overall command. To simplify it, Apple’s tech would have specific words that relate to specific users, so when the device recognizes your voice, it expects certain kinds of input from you. It could also track the different uses of the device by specific users, like musical preferences, for example, which would allow it to better execute lengthier commands.

Both technologies might sound like pretty big jumps from what’s currently available, and it’s important to remember that Apple patents a lot of stuff all the time, without necessarily adding features or creating new devices that use them. Solar cell technology is going to need to come down in price before it’s practical for Apple to incorporate it into iPhones and iPads. But these patents may also give us a look at what Apple is working on in Cupertino, and what might be down the road in future devices.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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