• Future MacBooks to Be Lit (and Recharged) by the Sun

    In an interesting patent application revealed this week, Apple describes a way to backlight notebook screens using a reflector to direct ambient light to the display. The patent application, filed in September of 2008, also references a way that the same apparatus could be used to focus light on solar cells that would recharge the device's battery.

    The experience of trying to read a notebook screen in bright light is pretty common: no matter how good the backlighting on the display, or how high-contrast the screen image is, sometimes it's just too washed out to be any use. Apple proposes, in this patent application, a sort of fight-fire-with-fire approach: you'd deploy an extendable, flexible reflector called a "light harness" that would collect ambient light and focus it on a translucent panel on the back of the notebook's lid. This concentrated illumination would always be brighter than the ambient light falling on the reflector, rendering the screen visible in even the harshest lighting conditions so long as the back of the screen is pointed toward the light source.

    In addition to making the screen clearer, this invention would also extend battery power in one or two ways. First, by eliminating the additional power draw of an LCD backlight, the reflector would keep your battery for being drained, and secondly - in a possible usage alluded to in the text of the patent - the collected light could also be directed at a solar panel (perhaps one of the transparent ones shown in a previous Apple patent) to charge the battery. Some "embodiments" of the reflection could include a reflector that automagically turns to face the sun to gather the most light possible.

    It's not at all clear when - or if - this invention would be coming to a MacBook, or if it would be backward-compatible (for example, directing light at the Apple logo on the MacBook lid). It also looks like some careful engineering would be necessary to make the flimsy-looking reflector durable enough for road warriors. However, a solar MacBook (or even a more efficient one) would be attractive to a lot of users… with a MacBook and a tethered iPhone, you could go anywhere.
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