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Apple’s patents tend to make news because they offer hints about what gadgets the tech company is cooking up and preparing to unleash on its fans. But today, news is spreading about another patent that’s more interesting because of its environmental potential: touchscreens with solar panels built right in.

According to AppleInsider, the patent is for an “integrated touch sensor and solar assembly,” which details a method for embedding solar panels underneath touchscreens – even the flexible kind. The solar panels take the energy sucked out of the light that hits it and pumps it into a device’s battery. Essentially, we could have an iPhone or an iPad that doesn’t need quite as much time connected to a wired charger – the sun itself will do most of the hard work.

Interestingly, the patent also offers alternatives for how the solar panels will absorb light. Apparently the patent describes a way to embed the panels so that they’re facing down, into the device, instead of out towards the user and any potential light sources.

So how does this work? The patent calls for light channel systems, which would employ “a parabolic reflector” or “fiber optics.” In either case, light is being bounced around within the device and piped to the panels, where they can work their magic and give the user more energy options.

Will solar panel touchscreens ever actually be deployed? It’s hard to say: a technology like this is really exciting in a lot of ways, but at the same time, it also seems like the kind of thing that works well on paper, but maybe not so well in practice. There’s little doubt that trying to mass-produce smartphones with complicated solar panel touchscreens would drive up the costs of productions, and Apple’s devices are already sold at something of a premium. And rumors have been swirling that increased production costs have limited the number of iPhone 6 devices that Apple is planning on making this year. Could you imagine how much more difficult the production line would be if manufacturing plants had to deal with this new patent as well?

As interesting as all this is, it will likely be a while before we start to see this deployed – if it ever is at all.

[Via AppleInsider]


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