On July 18, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Google revealing an invention that is being geared for a future Chromebook or Chromebook Pixel. The idea is simple yet interesting. Google is thinking of adding "presence" technology to future Chromebooks that will allow users to simply wave their hand over a specialized trackpad or within the sphere of the camera's view to wake up their computer.
Google's Patent Background
Most computing devices enter a stand-by mode from an operation mode if a user does not interact with the device for a specific time period. The stand-by mode of the device promotes power conservation because the device is operating at low power. To reduce power consumption during stand-by mode, the display may be dimmed or completely darkened until the device is returned to the operation mode. In order to return the device to operation mode from stand-by mode, the user is commonly required to provide active input to the device such as by pressing any key on the keyboard or moving the mouse. In response, the device may take a few seconds before the device returns to the operation mode and is fully responsive to additional user input.
Google Invents Presence Detection for Chromebooks
Aspects of Google's invention generally relate to detecting a user's presence in the vicinity of a notebook. When a user has not interacted with the computing device for a predetermined time period, the device enters a user detection mode from a normal operation mode such that nonessential components are powered down or are provided with low level power.
In one embodiment, a trackpad may be used to detect the presence of the user in the user detection mode. An electric field is generated by conductive plates of the trackpad. Google states that when a user extends their hand over the trackpad interfering with the electric field, the sense lines in the track pad will signal the notebook's processor to return it to normal operational mode.
In another embodiment, a camera may be used to detect whether the user has moved within range of photodetectors during the user detection mode. When the user is detected, normal operating power is restored to the computing device.
In Google's patent FIG. 3a noted below we see a client device 108 as being a laptop computer including a trackpad. Patent FIGS. 3b and 3c below it illustrate a cross section of the trackpad along line A-A' as you can see in patent FIG. 3a. In normal tracking mode, the trackpad performs fine-grained texture recognition and finger tracking using small conductive plates that sense movement of a user's finger along the trackpad.
The trackpad is typically driven by drive lines and sense lines. The drive lines and sense lines commonly extend orthogonal to each other. The drive lines may be used for generating an electric field from the trackpad and the sense lines may be used for detecting the electric field.
In patent FIG. 3b above we see that the parallel connection of the conductive plates causes the trackpad to behave like a single capacitive plate that emits an electric field outwardly in different directions.
In patent FIG. 3c, the conductive plates each hold one half of the trackpad and are connected in parallel to form one large positive capacitive sensor 141b. This configuration generates an electric field 310 between the two capacitive sensors 141b, 141c.
When this future Chromebook is in user detection mode, the trackpad will detect the presence of a nearby user.
In patent FIG. 4a noted above, we see a side view of a future Chromebook with a user's hand extending over the its trackpad. When the user's hand enters the electric field within the trackpad space, the notebook will wake up from sleep mode and provide full power to the Chromebook.
Google Blatantly Copies Apple's Patent Figure
As you could see for yourself, the hand positioning in the Google patent figure is absolutely identical to Apple's granted patent figure. Also notice that the trackpad strip is also identical. However, Google's other patent figures noted above such as 3A don't illustrate a wide strip trackpad which further proves that Google's team just ripped the graphic from Apple's patent. It should be noted that Apple's patent is in fact for a wide trackpad and for the same concept of presence detection as one of its functions.
Furthermore, the lines that illustrate the camera's area coverage are identical in placement as those found in the Apple patent. Other than there being a round hole representing the camera position in Google's patent, this has simply been lifted from Apple's granted patent 8,098,233. It's a little embarrassing to say the least that Google has had to resort to such blatant copying like their partner Samsung. Is it a corporate cultural thing or will someone's head roll for being this stupid? Only time will tell.
While presence technology is being explored by many companies, few if any have actually implemented it yet. Perhaps Google will be first to market with this concept. But it's too bad that someone on their team had to rip off Apple's graphic and to a certain point, the very ideas laid out in Apple's patent. Is there enough of a difference to gain a granted patent? More than likely. Yet time will tell if there'll be a clash over this invention at some point in the future.
Google filed their patent application under number 20130181936 on January 18, 2012. For the record, Apple's granted patent was issued on January 17, 2012. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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