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Apple has a wild new plan to cover trackpads with solar cells

A solar flare on the sunNASAIn the future, iPhones could harness the power of the sun.

Apple has invented an interesting new way of ensuring its trackpads and mice don’t run out of juice: Covering the devices with solar cells.

A new patent application from the Cupertino company, which we first saw on 9to5Mac, is for “Wireless Devices With Touch Sensors and Solar Cells.”

The patent points out that the rise of wireless technology for computer input devices allows them to “be freely moved around by a user without worrying about cable length restrictions, cable tangles, and other inconveniences.”

However, this comes with a downside — the need for batteries. “Rechargeable batteries use battery charging equipment that may be misplaced or may otherwise be inaccessible,” and disposable batteries are a chore to constantly purchase and replace.

Here’s Apple’s solution to this problem, laid out in the patent’s abstract (emphasis ours):

A wireless input-output device may gather touch input from a user. The touch input may be wirelessly transmitted to external wireless equipment such as a computer. The wireless device has a touch sensor and a solar cell that converts ambient light into electrical power. Wireless communications circuitry transmits the touch input to the external equipment using the electrical power from the solar cell. Energy storage devices such as a capacitor and a battery can be charged using the electrical power. The wireless device may have a transparent cover layer. The touch sensor may be a transparent touch sensor that is located between the cover layer and the solar cell or the solar cell may be a transparent solar cell that is located between the transparent cover layer and the touch sensor.

In plain English? That’s a touch input device — AKA a trackpad or magic mouse — which doubles up as a solar cell.

Apple patent track pad solar panelApple/USPTO

It’s important to note that not every patent Apple files makes its way into a finished product. Many are filed as a precautionary measure, or to preemptively head off competitors. But Apple is increasingly committed to renewable technologies, committing to the goal of “running all our facilities on 100 per cent clean and renewable energy.”

A product that would both obviously improve the user experience, but also help Apple further green causes, would be a double win for the company.

Read the full patent application here »

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