Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent that relates to a next-gen terahertz (THz) sensor module for spectroscopy and imaging in dynamic environments to detect dangerous gasses near your iPhone (or iDevice). The THz sensor could also be used for future rendering of three-dimensional scenes for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications.

Apple notes that in addition to detecting the presence of gas, health/quality of liquid or solid materials in an environment, there is need for imaging applications on consumer electronic devices related to health monitoring, such as detecting skin cancer and other skin disorders. The conventional image sensors (e.g., CMOS image sensors) found on consumer electronic devices, however, are incapable of performing such health monitoring applications.

Apple's granted patent covers the introduction of using THz spectroscopy and imaging in dynamic environments with spectral response enhancements in future iDevices.

More specifically, the patent covers a THz spectroscopy and imaging system and method whereby EM waves are emitted in a dynamic environment in real-time by a transmitter of an electronic device in the THz frequency band.

The EM waves are reflected by objects (e.g., walls) in the dynamic environment and received by a receiver of the electronic device in real-time. If a transmission medium (e.g., gas, liquid, solid, plasma) with an absorption frequency in the THz frequency band is present between the transmitter and the reflective object, the received signal level at that frequency will be lower than those at other frequencies.

In this way, transmission mediums in the dynamic environment can be detected by illuminating one or more reflective objects in the dynamic environment with a range of THz frequencies covering the absorption spectra of the transmission mediums to be detected and observing the reflected spectrums.

Apple's patent FIG. 2A below illustrates, from patent application 20210041295, illustrates a fixed THz beam with high directivity and limited coverage; FIG. 2B illustrates THz beam scanning to increase coverage.

Apple's patent FIG. 4A below, from patent application 20210041295, is a conceptual diagram of a THz sensor module that uses MEMS micromirrors; FIG. 5 illustrates the THz sensor module of FIG. 4 embedded in an electronic device.

Apple's patent FIG. 21A below, from patent application 20210041293, FIG. 21A illustrates the use of motions sensors of an iPhone to improve battery performance when the device is stationary and lying flat; FIG. 24A illustrates sweeping a THz EM wave to build a reflective signal strength table.

Apple notes that the THz system can operate in a "sniff mode" where THz EM waves are transmitted at discrete known frequencies of defined target gases that have a unique and maximum absorption spectra to improve battery performance.

In another application, the architecture can be integrated into a smart speaker or other Internet of things (IoT) device. The device responds to user voice commands, such as "What is the carbon dioxide level in this room?" In an embodiment, the device can be integrated with a WiFi network so that multiple devices can be placed in different rooms/offices and report local gas concentration levels.

One application for the THz sensor beyond health applications is for rendering three-dimensional scenes for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications.

To review this highly technical patent with 31 patent figures, review Apple's granted patent 11,099,072.

Special note: Although Apple was granted one patent regarding their THz sensor module today, there were four patents filed at the same time back in February. In order to get the bigger picture and value of Apple's inventions, you could review the other three patent applications that provide different aspects of the invention and is accompanied by dozens more patent figures. The other three patents include:




A few of Apple's Inventors

Sireesha Ramisetti: Sr. RF Systems Design Engineer

Vijendra Ashiwal: Technical Lead, RF Systems Design

Peter Agboh: Sr Manager, Wireless Design