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Apple Receives Patents for Integrated Photonics, Periscope Lens Technology

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CUPERTINO, Calif., July 15, 2021 — Two optical and photonic technologies are among the latest patent awards that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted to Apple. The company has been awarded patents for an integrated photonics device, as well as a “folded camera” that could be used in small form factor cameras — such as those the company uses in its iPhones.

The patent that pertains to the integrated photonics device was filed in late September 2018 and granted July 13. The patent abstract describes a device, including a frequency stabilization subsystem, for monitoring and/or adjusting the wavelength of light emitted by one or more light sources.

The rest of the patent abstract reads, “The device can include one or more selectors that can combine, select, and/or filter light along one or more light paths, which can include light emitted by a plurality of light sources. Example selectors may include, but are not limited to, an arrayed waveguide grating (AWG), a ring resonator, a plurality of distributed Bragg reflectors (DBRs), a plurality of filters, and the like. Output light paths from the selector(s) can be input into one or more detector(s). The detector(s) can receive the light along the light paths and can generate one or more signals as output signal(s) from the frequency stabilization subsystem. A controller can monitor the wavelength and can adjust or generate control signal(s) for the one or more light sources to lock the monitored wavelength to a target wavelength (or within a targeted range of wavelengths).”

The patent description introduces integrated sensor and detector technology, relating specifically to the frequency stabilization subsystem; the subsystem can include a component (a “selector”) that combines the paths of input light to output a single (selected) path can include one or more components for calibrating its temperature, as well as one or more sensor components for detecting a change in its operation.

Patent number 11,064,592, was granted to Apple one day before silicon photonics company Rockley Photonics unveiled its digital health monitoring solution based on its spectrophotometer-on-a-chip sensing module. Rockley, in a document (Form S-4) filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in April, listed Apple as its largest customer, sparking speculation from outlets covering Apple that the technology company could use Rockley sensor technology in future iterations of its consumer smartwatches and electronic products. In May, outlets reported on the potential inclusion of such technology in Apple devices.

The patent does not mention a specific product or device. Rockley, in its July 14 press release, does not mention any products, components, or devices other than the wearable sensor system it introduces.

Advancing Camera Technology


In the abstract that describes the folded camera (or “periscope lens”) device, the patent introduces, “A folded camera that includes two light folding elements such as prisms and an independent lens system, located between the two prisms, which includes an aperture stop and a lens stack. The lens system may be moved on one or more axes independently of the prisms to provide autofocus and/or optical image stabilization for the camera. The shapes, materials, and arrangements of the refractive lens elements in the lens stack may be selected to capture high resolution, high quality images while providing a sufficiently long back focal length to accommodate the second prism.”

It is believed that the patent, number 11,061,213, could point to a new camera system, with new components, for future versions of Apple’s iPhone.

The patent describes a first prism in the folded camera that redirects light from an object field from a first axis (AX 1) to the lens system on a second axis (AX 2). “The lens element(s) in the lens stack receive the light through the aperture stop and refract the light to a second prism that redirects the light onto a third axis (AX 3) on which a photosensor of the camera is disposed. The redirected light forms an image plane at or near the surface of the photosensor,” the patent continues.

Parameters and relationships of the lenses in the lens stack design, which include the shape, thickness, geometry, position, materials, and spacing of the lens itself as well as the surface shapes of lens elements, may be selected (at least in part) to reduce, compensate, or correct for optical aberrations and lens artifacts and effects across the field of view, the summary continues.

Power distribution, lens shape, prism form factors, and lens materials may also be selected to ensure the embodiments of the lens system provide a low focal ratio, enhanced optical zoom, and high-resolution imaging.

Patent number 11,061,213 was issued July 13, 2021. It was filed in February 2018.
Jul 2021
A transparent optical component consisting of one or more pieces of optical glass with surfaces so curved (usually spherical) that they serve to converge or diverge the transmitted rays from an object, thus forming a real or virtual image of that object.
integrated photonicsIntegrated photonics designAppleRockley Photonicslenscamerasphotographyimagingopticsphonephone camera lensPhone CamerassensorsSensors & Detectorsoptical sensingmaterialswearableslight directionality

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