A few weeks ago the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from LG Electronics that reveals an advanced smartphone designed to work with not only a flexible display but a flexible body. Unlike the current LG G Flex smartphone, the body of this futuristic model is able to morph into varying shapes depending on the function required. One example, as noted in our cover graphic, illustrates how the phone knows that it's in freefall and automatically curves its bottom edge so as to provide maximum shock prevention to the phone. LG's invention discusses the use of a new shape memory alloy, shock and drop prevention operations and even describes a rather unique twist to locking your smartphone's screen. In the end, aspects of LG's invention are rather interesting while others require you to stretch your imagination over the edge.
One of LG's latest inventions generally relates to a future smartphone that will be able to automatically change a shape thereof when a preset condition is satisfied to enhance user convenience.
Additional advantages, objectives and features of the invention are presented in the descriptions below. The invention, as embodied and broadly described below covers a mobile device having at least one predetermined flexible portion, a display provided in the body to output image information, an actuator provided in the body to transform a shape of the body from an original shape to a transformed shape and a controller configured to control the actuator to transform the shape of the body when a preset condition is satisfied.
Shape Memory Alloy
The first important aspect of LG's invention is that the flexible display noted in this invention uses a shape memory alloy. In the exemplary embodiment of patent FIG. 4, the entire portion of the body is formed of the flexible material and the actuator is formed from a shape memory alloy #210 of which an original shape is alternatively changed into a transformed shape based on temperature change.
The shape memory alloy is provided in the body of the device so as to enable transformation of the shape of the body. When it includes an electrical signal, the shape memory alloy generates heat by using a resistance provided in metal to transform the shape.
The shape memory alloy is one of various metal alloys having a property of returning to the original shape over a transformation temperature even when the shape thereof is transformed below a transformation temperature. Such transformation temperature is generally a unique uniform temperature of a specific material when a state of a material is transformed.
In other words, the shape memory alloy is fabricated to have memory of the bent shape. It maintains a plane shape and the shape of the shape memory alloy is transformed into the bent shape when the temperature of the shape memory alloy reaches a preset temperature or higher.
The shape memory alloy is able to transform a thermal energy into a mechanical energy (displacement or force) and it is desirable to have a good shape memory effect, a dust elimination property, a super elastic effect and the like. Also, the shape memory alloy has a good anti-corrosion property.
In LG's patent FIG. 4 noted below we're able to see a diagram illustrating an example of various positions of the shape memory alloy. The horizontally extended shape memory alloy #211 may be controlled to be bendable in particular shapes as shown further below. As shown in the drawings, the horizontal shape memory alloy may cover an entire horizontal portion.
As an alternative to the shape memory alloy, a motor #220 and a frame #225 may be used as the actuator as shown in patent FIG. 5 above. The entire portion of the body may be formed of a flexible material or only a bent portion where the motor is positioned may be formed of a flexible material.
Drop Prevention Operation
In LG's patent FIGS. 6 to 9 noted below we're able to see a drop prevention operation of the smartphone via a control method. As shown in patent FIG. 6, the smartphone that is being held by the user happens to be inclined and if the force of the hand holding the phone decreases, the user might drop it. When the force of the user's hand holding the phone decreases, the balancing weight is inclined and the body of the phone is inclined as shown in FIG. 6.
At this time, the controller may transform the shape of the smartphone to move the balancing weight of the body to an opposite portion of the inclined portion. As shown in patent FIG. 6, when the balancing weight of the phone is moved backward, the controller may control an upper portion of the phone to bend forward, as shown in FIG. 7, thus preventing the phone from being dropped to the ground.
In another example noted above in patent FIG. 8 we're able to see that the body of the phone may escape between the user's fingers to fall to the ground without being inclined in one direction. In this instance, the controller controls the actuator to enable the body of the smartphone to be wound around the user's hand. As shown in patent FIG. 9, the smartphone falling down to the ground is stopped from moving downwardly by the user's hand and the user cannot miss the smartphone.
The direction of wound around the user's hand is determined by the actuator controlled to bend an upper portion of the held portion, after the pressure of the portion held by the user is detected to determine that four fingers are positioned in a large area of the held portion.
Shock Prevention Operation
LG notes that the user might still drop their smartphone even with such ability to change shape. Therefore it is desirable to prevent damage to the smartphone. LG's patent FIGS. 10 and 11 are diagrams to explain a shock preventing operation of the smartphone according to an embodiment of the present invention.
LG's patent application notes that when it's determined that the smartphone is dropped to the ground after the conditions sensed by the acceleration sensor and the pressure sensor are satisfied, the controller controls the body of the smartphone to be changed, as shown in FIG. 10 above, to make the area that will contact the ground larger.
If the area of the mobile terminal that will first contact the ground is reduced, the shock applied to the mobile terminal would grow larger. For example if a corner of the mobile terminal reaches the ground first, the shock would be large. Therefore, the controller causes the shape of the mobile terminal to be changed to provide a greater contact area. When the shape of the body is curved, the body is rolled before reaching the ground and the shock may be weakened. Preferably, a shock absorber such as silicon and robber is provided in a surface contacting with the ground and a shock can be absorbed to prevent the damage.
Moreover, in a predetermined time after being dropped the ground, the mobile terminal may be controlled to be unfolded, as shown in FIG. 11. When the actuator is formed of a shape memory alloy, heat has to be applied to the shape to maintain the transformed shape constantly.
Getting Bent out of Shape: Message Notifications
LG's next set of patent figures explain the operation of the smartphone for notifying the user that a message is being received according to another embodiment of the present invention. Examples of the message receiving may include text message receiving, missed call displaying, e-mail receiving, insufficient battery notifying and newly updated contents notifying.
When a notifying message is generated and received, the conventional smartphone makes a sound, vibrates and/or displays a message receiving notification on a screen. However, the smartphone in this invention transforms the shape of the body to indicate the message receiving function to the user.
For example, in case of a missed call, as shown in patent FIG. 14, the actuator is controlled to bend a predetermined corner of the smartphone.
When there are multiple types of received messages, the corresponding shape of the mobile terminal for each type can be preset. Seeing the transformed shape, the user may expect various types of received messages. For example, when shapes of two portions in the body are transformed, as shown in FIG. 15, it can be expected that two types of received messages are generated.
LG notes that when a text message is received, as shown in patent FIG. 12 above, the controller controls the actuator to bend the body. When the number of received text messages is large, as shown in patent FIG. 13, then the shape of the body could be transformed to reflect that reality.
In LG's patent FIG. 16 we're able to see that when the user makes a short touch or tap on the display to check for their messages, the shape of the smartphone body returns to the original shape mainly due to the proximity sensor sensing the user's hand approaching the display.
A Back Side Solar Battery Film
Next, LG reveals the use of a backside solar battery for a future smartphone. In patent FIGS. 20 to 22 noted below we're able to see diagrams that explain a power supplementary operation of the present invention.
When a solar battery #195 is provided on a back side of the smartphone, a solar battery can be charged without using wires. The display is arranged on the front side and it is difficult to arrange the solar battery in the back side. However, an area of the back side is not used and the solar battery may be provided in the back side, as shown in FIGS. 20 to 22.
The solar battery absorbs solar energy and changes the absorbed solar energy into electric energy. A conventional solar battery is formed on a firm silicon substrate. However, recently, a thin film solar battery has been developed and the thin film solar battery is deposited on the backside of the mobile terminal. Examples of such a thin film solar battery include a-Si solar battery, CIGS/CIS solar battery, CdTe solar battery and dye-sensitized solar battery.
Compared with a conventional solar battery, the thin film solar battery has a simpler manufacture process and a low manufacture cost advantageously. In addition, the shape of the thin film solar battery may be transformed and such the thin film solar battery may be mounted in the flexible body.
LG notes that when the battery of the smartphone is running out, the actuator may be controlled to partially fold the body to position where the solar battery is moved from the back side to the front side. At this time, when the display is reduced to output, the battery could charge while the user is using their smartphone. Moreover, when a transparency of the screen on the reduced display #151 is heightened to control lights to reach the solar battery mounted in the back side, battery supplement efficiency may be enhanced.
LG also notes that the size of the display #151 may be reduced and the transparency of the inactivated portion is increased, such that lights may be controlled to reach the solar battery as shown in patent FIG. 21, without being folded.
Preferably, the body may be folded to turn over completely, as shown in patent FIG. 22. When the body is folded to turn over, an entire portion of the solar battery may be exposed to the front side to generate electricity. Accordingly, energy efficiency may be improved remarkably.
Uniquely Locking and Unlocking a Future Smartphone
As odd as it may look, the next and last feature presented in LG's patent application is rather interesting. Interesting that is, if you believe that flexible bodied smartphones will ever get to this stage of development.
Illustrated in patent FIGS. 23 to 26 below we see diagrams explaining a locking operation of the smartphone by transformation of the shape of the body between a locked or unlocked state.
As the size of the smartphone is getting larger and thinner, the smartphone may be folded to be smaller for portability. When the user releases the lock of the mobile terminal in a state where the body is folded, as shown in FIG. 23, the user may be expected to use their smartphone and the controller controls the actuator to unfold the folded body as shown in patent FIG. 24. In contrast, when the user sets the lock of their smartphone as shown in FIG. 25, the user is expected not to use their smartphone and the phone is likely to be put into a bag or pocket. At this time, the phone may be folded to an easy-to-carry size, as shown in FIG. 26.
As mentioned above, the smartphone's body includes an actuator to transform the shape of the body. Accordingly, user convenience may be enhanced.
In the end, there are certain aspects of LG's invention that hold some real world potential here. One of them is the integration of next generation solar battery films into future smartphones. Another is their proposed idea on a new lock and unlock feature. On the other hand, having your smartphone get all bent out of shape just to notify you that a message is incoming could be seen as being a little overkill. But like most patents, there are some good ideas and some real duds.
LG filed their US patent application back in Q4 which was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office in January 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
A Note for Tech Sites covering our Report: We ask tech sites covering our report to kindly limit the use of our graphics to one image. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation.
Patent Bolt presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. About Posting Comments: Patent Bolt reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit any comments.