Earlier this month the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Microsoft relating to switchable magnetic locks. The techniques and apparatuses associated with this invention could enable locking and unlocking of parts and peripherals with low or no power consumption and a seamless design. The design would accommodate attaching a stylus into a groove set into the side of a smartphone or tablet so as to keep the pen in place until needed. The magnet system could eventually work itself through to future PC notebooks, the Xbox and beyond.
Microsoft's Patent Background
Many computing devices have movable and removable parts and peripherals. A smart phone may include a stylus, a laptop a hinged display, a tablet computer a battery charger, or a portable audio player a docking station, to name just a few. Current techniques often fix these parts and peripherals to their computing devices using mechanic connectors, such as latches, sliding tabs, and so forth. These mechanical connectors, however, often fail to provide a satisfactory design because they have objects that jut out or holes that pierce the computer body, part, or peripheral. Examples include exposed latches, latch holes, tabs hooks, and tab reception detents, to name just a few.
Some techniques have attempted to address this failure in design through electromagnets or permanent magnets. Electromagnets, however, are unsatisfactory due to their power requirements and low magnetic force. Current techniques that use permanent magnets do not suitably fix the computing device to the part or peripheral or, if they do, require excessive force to separate the computing device from the part or peripheral.
Microsoft's invention generally relates to techniques enabling use of switchable magnetic locks and apparatuses including switchable magnetic locks. The techniques and apparatuses could enable computing devices to lock and unlock peripherals and other devices using little or no power and with a seamless design.
Microsoft notes that computing device referenced in this invention could be one or a combination of various devices such as a smartphone, tablet computer, a laptop computer, an all-in-one computer, a gaming system, a television, netbooks, media players and other future devices.
Example Computing Devices Having a Switchable Magnetic Lock
Microsoft's patent FIG. 2 noted below illustrates an example smart phone having a switchable magnetic lock and a retention structure for a stylus. In this example we see a smartphone with a stylus shown attached and unattached. The smartphone 102-3 is illustrated with a retention structure 204, a low-power permanent magnet 206 seamlessly integrated into retention structure, and a capacitive sensor 208 integrated seamlessly into an outer surface of smartphone. The smartphone 102-3 also includes a magnetic load sensor and hall-effect sensors, which are internal to smartphone 102-3 and are not illustrated.
The low-power permanent magnet is shown within retention structure, though proximity rather than inclusion is sufficient. The low-power permanent magnet provides another magnetic field in addition to that of the switchable magnetic lock. This other magnetic field has a power substantially less than the power of the magnetic field of the diametrically magnetized magnet. It doesn't lock the stylus to smart phone 102-3 sufficient to prevent accidental removal, but instead retains the stylus so that it doesn't fall off when the switchable magnetic lock nulls its more-powerful magnetic field.
As illustrated in detail in Microsoft's patent FIG. 3, smart phone 102-3 also includes a switchable magnetic lock 302, shown in the foreground for visual clarity.
The switchable magnetic lock is illustrated with a portion (#304) of the stylus of FIG. 2, this portion having a magnetically permeable material capable of completing a magnetic circuit. The switchable magnetic lock includes a diametrically magnetized magnet (#306) and magnetic-field directors (#308) proximate the diametrically magnetized magnet. Note that switchable the magnetic lock could include an actuator that is capable of rotating the diametrically magnetized magnet between a first position and a second position, the first position causing the magnetic-field directors (#308) to null the magnetic field and the second position causing the magnetic-field directors to direct the magnetic field to the retention structure (#204 above) and thus portion #304.
The portion of the stylus and its magnetically permeable material could be located in multiple parts of the stylus. Thus, assume that two portions of the stylus are included within the stylus. In such a case, a user may select to lock the stylus into the retention structure such that the stylus doesn't project from the smartphone, or does project some amount from smartphone. Thus, multiple portions within the stylus permit a user to select to lock the stylus flush with the smartphone or projecting from smartphone.
The projecting end of the stylus may enable a user to more easily locate and remove the stylus, especially if the user can't see or doesn't wish to focus on smartphone or stylus. The magnetically permeable material could vary in these portions of the stylus to vary a holding force.
Notebook Locked with Magnets
Another example for switchable magnetic locks is found in use with a future notebook. The current method of locking a notebook uses latches. To open the laptop, this locking system typically requires the user to find one or two latch-release slides and then manually operate the slides while pulling the display from the body. Thus, this design may require a user to operate manual controls and includes two latches that jut out from the display, two latch-holes that pierce the body, and latch-release slides that also jut out from either the display or body.
The described techniques and apparatuses, however, enable a switchable magnetic lock to be used. Assume that instead of the above latch locking system, a laptop includes a switchable magnetic lock. In this case, on closing the display to the body, a controller in the laptop senses the proximity of the display to the body, activates an actuator effective to cease a null state of a permanent magnet and instead direct the permanent magnet's magnetic field to a magnetically permeable material in the display. By so doing, the display is drawn to the body and locked to the body. The controller then ceases to use power, as the magnetic circuit does not require power to be maintained.
On opening the laptop, the controller may sense a touch of the user on a portion of the display at which a person is likely to touch when attempting to open the laptop. The controller then activates the actuator effective to null the magnetic field instead of direct it to the display's magnetically permeable material, thereby unlocking the display from the body. The display then easily moves away from the body.
The magnetically permeable material could be seamlessly integrated into the display, as could the permanent magnet and actuator into the body creating a superior aesthetic appearance.
Microsoft's patent application which published earlier this month by the US Patent Office was originally filed in Q3 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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