Apple was working on self-charging, cellular base stations before axing AirPort

Apple was working on Wi-Fi or cellular base stations that keep charged and powered without power or human intervention – and that can join the network after a power outage.

It doesn’t sound like a very difficult technical problem. If you have regular sunlight, blowing up a solar panel on a cellular base station seems like a smart, practical, and even green thing to do. It doesn’t even have to be solar, devices can be driven by the wind.

Except that the wind is falling, the sun comes in and the current wireless base stations do not work well when they suddenly lose power. Apple has now obtained a patent – US Patent No. 10,716,114, “Failure Notification and Context Preservation for Energy Recovery Devices” – which aims to solve this problem, primarily for cellular base stations. It also refers to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and Apple may still be looking to use this technology, but even though the patent has just been granted, it was filed in 2015.

As with all patents, this one attempts to cover all possible applications of the claim by making its descriptions as broad as possible. Thus, throughout the document, Apple refers to energy recovery devices (EHD), which can be solar panels, wind turbines or more. It also makes extensive reference to wireless rather than the Wi-Fi or cell-only specification, but this is still the case as it applies to a powered device that is on a wireless network.

Detail of the patent showing how when the sun shines, everything works.

“Since the environmental conditions and other phenomena from which EHDs collect energy can vary,” says the patent, “the speed at which EHDs harvest energy can also vary accordingly.” Apple goes on to note that what generally helps is having a battery in the device “which can be used to store the energy harvested by EHD so that energy can be available for operations performed at EHD . ”

“However, if the speed at which the EHD collects energy falls below the speed at which the energy is consumed and / or lost by the EHD for a period long enough to exhaust the energy stored in the device energy storage, “he continues,” The amount of energy available to the JEP can decrease to such an extent that energy-consuming operations at the DHD must be temporarily suspended until sufficient energy is available. available again. ”

In other words, if there is not enough energy entering directly at this time and there is not enough in the battery to use, the device will stop working. This is obviously a problem, but it is not the problem that Apple is directly trying to solve.

“Wireless operations, in particular, may have to be temporarily suspended,” says the patent. “This poses a problem because the protocols that cellular base stations currently observe when wireless connections are down are not designed to respond effectively to the situation in which an EHD stops frequently – and then seeks to resume – wireless communications. ”

Currently, a device will continue to operate until there is no more energy left, and then it will turn off immediately. The data which was sent to or via this base station cannot then clearly access it or cannot be relayed to another device. According to Apple, however, this data is usually lost because there is nothing to tell the transmitter that something is wrong, or at least not quickly enough.

“In general, cellular base stations are designed to offer with interruptions in wireless connections which can be caused by many different problems, such as poor channel conditions, excessive interference, and moving wireless devices out of coverage areas “, explains the patent.

Patent detail showing graphically that when the sun goes down, a network connection can drop

Patent detail showing graphically that when the sun goes down, a network connection can drop

“Since some interruptions can only be momentary,” he continues, “if a cellular base station does not receive an acknowledgment from a wireless device verifying that … the data sent to the device wireless connections have been received, the cellular base station “may resend … several times and wait for an acknowledgment before deducing that the wireless connection has been lost or terminated. ”

In addition to the risk of data loss, Apple says that “repetitive sending by the cellular base station of … data can be a waste”. In addition to the data sent by a user, a falling connection can also lead to the loss of informationon about the connection itself. The device may not be recognized when it is turned on again.

So what is needed, and what Apple is offering in this patent, is that a wireless device powered by energy recovery methods tell the network when it is going to be dark. Then, when it has sufficiently charged, it “can send a connection recovery communication to the cellular base station indicating that the energy level at the EHD is high enough for the wireless connection to be restored”.

The patent details the different methods that a base station device can alert a network and also provides examples of many types of devices that could use it.

Ultimately, however, what this means for users is that it will be possible to place devices in areas that receive, for example, sunlight, but are otherwise difficult to reach. This could mean that wireless stations are installed in more secure, or simply less convenient, areas such as those that extend in line over a large plot of land.

Since devices never need to be recharged manually or replace their batteries, they could be placed once with less consideration for anyone needing to service them regularly.

Apple has already experimented with charging the base station, but less to keep them powered on, and more so to create Wi-Fi routers that can charge iPhones remotely.

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