Apple patent is for magnetic connector with optical signal path
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Apple patent is for magnetic connector with optical signal path

Apple may revamp -- or perhaps replace -- its MagSafe connector for its laptop line. An Apple patent (number 7841776) for a magnetic connector with optical signal path has appeared at the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Circuits, apparatus, and methods that provide a connector system that can supply both power and data to a mobile computing or other type of device using a single connection. Further examples also provide a power and data adapter that can provide power and data to a mobile computing device using a single cable. Further examples provide an easy disengagement when a cable connected to the connector is pulled. One such example provides a magnetic connector that uncouples without binding when its cord is pulled. Another example prevents power from being provided at a connector insert until the connector insert is placed in a connector receptacle. The inventors of the patent are John C. Difonzo, Chris Ligtenberg and Michael Culbert.

Here's Apple's background and summary of the invention: "Mobile computing devices have become very popular the past several years. Users have chosen these devices not only for their portability, they have chosen them to be replacements for their traditional computers as well. These mobile devices thus fill two niches, as on-the-go computing and as desktop replacements.

"As a desktop replacement, there are two needs that these portable computers must satisfy.
The first of these needs is the ability to function the length of a workday. Unfortunately, this exceeds current battery capacity; thus the laptop needs to be plugged in to a power source for at least a portion of the day. The second need to be satisfied is the ability to transfer data over a physical connection.

"Presently, satisfying these two needs requires at least two connections to the mobile device; one for power and one for data transmission. But including two (or more) connectors increases cost and consumes space, typically along the side of the mobile device. It also requires the user to make two separate connections, thus limiting the usefulness and desirability of the mobile computing format.

"These two connections also require the use of two cables. This in turn clutters a user's workspace, further degrading the mobile computing experience. Another way that a user's experience can quickly become unpleasant is when the user trips or otherwise becomes entangled with one of these cables, thereby pulling the laptop to the ground.

"Thus, what is needed are circuits, apparatus, and methods that provide a power and data transfer system that can supply both power and data to a laptop or other mobile computing device using a single connection. To reduce the clutter caused by multiple cables, it is further desirable to have a power and data adapter that can provide power and data to the mobile computing device using a single cable. It is also desirable to have a connector system that can connect this single cable to the mobile computing device. To avoid the consequence of laptops being pulled to the ground when a cable is tripped over, it is desirable that the connector system easily disengages when the cable is pulled away from the mobile computing device.

"Accordingly, embodiments of the present invention provide circuits, apparatus, and methods for power and data transfer systems that can supply both power and data to mobile computing or other types of devices using a single connection. Further embodiments of the present invention also provide power and data adapters that can provide data and power to mobile computing or other types of devices using a single cable. Further embodiments of the present invention provide connector systems for connecting fiber-optic and power cables to mobile computing or other types of devices. Further embodiments of the present invention provide connector systems with connector inserts that easily disengage from connector receptacles.

"An exemplary embodiment of the present invention provides a connector system that provides both power and data. In various embodiments of the present invention, data is provided using fiber-optic connections. These connections may include one, two, four, or other numbers of fiber-optic cables. In a specific embodiment of the present invention, four fiber-optic cables are used, where two cables are used for data transmission and two are used for data reception.

"In this specific embodiment of the present invention, the four fiber-optic cables are arranged such that the connection between a connector insert and a connector receptacle can be made in two ways along one axis of symmetry. That is, the connector insert can be inserted into the connector receptacle either right side up, or upside down, and the data connection is made using the four fiber-optic cables.

"This exemplary embodiment of the present invention also employs two, four, or more contacts for power transmission. A specific embodiment of the present invention provides four such contacts, two for a power supply voltage and two for ground connections. This allows relatively high currents to be provided to the mobile device, enabling rapid battery recharging.

"Another exemplary embodiment of the present invention provides a connector system that employs one or more magnets to engage a connector insert with a connector receptacle. These one or more magnets are attracted to an attraction plate in the connector receptacle, where the attraction plate is formed using a magnet or a ferromagnetic material. In a specific embodiment of the present invention, the connector insert includes four magnets arranged with alternating polarities.

"Magnetic field lines originating in a first magnet in the connector insert travel through an attractor plate in the receptacle and terminate in a second magnet in the insert, where the first and second magnets have opposite polarities.

"Another exemplary embodiment of the present invention provides a power and data adapter capable of providing power and data over a single cable to a mobile computing or other type of device. In various embodiments of the present invention, this power and data adapter may receive power from a wall, car, or other type outlet.

"The power and data adapter may directly connect to the outlet, or it may connect to the outlet via a power cord or cable. A specific embodiment of the present invention plugs directly into a wall outlet. In this case, the power and data adapter may also include circuitry for converting AC power to DC power suitable for being provided to the mobile computing or other type of device.

"The power and data adapter may translate data between the mobile computing or other type of device and one or more other devices. These one or more other devices may communicate using one or more protocols. The power and data adapter may thus translate or convert data using these one or more protocols to optical data to be provided to the mobile computing or other type of device.

"The power and data adapter may also translate or convert optical data from the computing or other type of device to data consistent with one or more of these protocols to be provided to one or more other devices. The data may be provided by the power and data adapter to the connector system and received by the power and data adapter from the connector system using one or more fiber-optic cables. The power and data adapter may provide and receive data to and from other devices using fiber-optic cables, or other types of wired or wireless connections such as Local Area Networking (LAN), Universal Serial Bus (USB), Digital Visual Interface (DVI), DisplayPort, IEEE 802.11 a, b, g, or other types of connections.

"Other devices may communicate with each other through the power and data adapter. For example, two or more USB devices may communicate with each other via a corresponding number of USB connectors on the power and data adapter. The power and data adapter may also include circuitry for translating among these wired and wireless protocols and one or more protocols suitable for fiber-optic communications. The power and data adapter may communicate with the mobile computing or other type of device over a single cable that includes conductors for the DC power and one or more fiber-optic cables.

"Another exemplary embodiment of the present invention prevents power from being applied at a connector insert until the connector insert is placed in a connector receptacle. In one embodiment of the present invention, the power and data adapter provides a small amount of current between power and ground pins of the connector insert. A resulting voltage is then sense.

"If the voltage is in a predetermined range, power is applied to the insert's power pins. In another embodiment of the present invention, an identification or other signal is provided by the connector insert. If a proper response is received, power is applied to the insert's power pins. Further embodiments may require that such an identification signal be periodically provided. When the identification is not received for a period of time, power is removed from the connector insert."

-- Dennis Sellers

 
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