Apple is looking to patent what could be the common thread for a new type of product: fabric with electrical components.
The Cupertino-based tech giant’s USPTO application cites a major challenge to smart fashion: electrical components and fabric do not mix. The latter is flexible, making it difficult to mount let alone maintain functional electronics.
As a way around this, the inventors propose weaving fabric using insulating and conductive yarns, possibly along with other strands of material. Metal coatings may be used to turn organic and/or inorganic materials for monofilaments and yarns conductive
The conductive yarns would carry signals and power to metal pads in contact with electrical components, which are embedded within pockets in the fabric. An interposer would facilitate these signal transfers, comprising a combination of rigid and flexible printed circuit substrate layers. Rigid circuit boards may incorporate fiberglass-filled epoxy, while flexible circuit boards may make use of heat-resistant polyimide.
The patent also suggests threading the conductive strands through the electronic itself, to help prevent dislodging. Soldering, adhesives like epoxy, or other suitable attachment members may also be employed to fasten the fabric strands to interposers.
Thermoplastic material would protect the electrical connection from mechanical damage and environmental contaminants, while insulating materials would be used in locations where yarn-to-yarn connections are not desired.
Besides clothing, the patent application mentions bags, furniture, and other items as potential use cases for electronic fabric. Still, Apple may have developed the technology to revive its short-lived apparel run in the 80s. It may also allow the trillion-dollar brand to crack the growing markets for both premium/luxury clothing and smart textiles. Combined with the expanding reach of the Internet of Things, smart fashion just might be Apple’s next billion-dollar bet.
The featured patent application, “Electrical Components Attached to Fabric”, was filed with the USPTO on February 25, 2021 and published thereafter on June 17, 2021. The listed inventors are Daniel D. Sunshine, David M. Kindlon, Michael B. Nussbaum, Andrew L. Rosenberg, Andrew Sterian, Breton M. Saunders, Christopher A. Schultz, David A. Bolt, Mark J. Beesley, Peter W. Mash, Steven Keating, Chang Liu, and Lan Hoang.