Apple patents screen tech capable of reading fingerprints without dedicated sensor

An Apple patent grant on Tuesday suggests the company is looking to leverage its LuxVue acquisition to integrate display technology capable of reading a user’s fingerprint without a dedicated sensor, a design feature rumored to see release with “iPhone 8.”

As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, Apple’s U.S. Patent No. 9,570,002 for an “Interactive display panel with IR diodes” details a touch display that incorporates micro-LED sensing technology instead of the ubiquitous active matrix hardware seen on most mobile devices.

The IP was reassigned to Apple last April from LuxVue, a small company specializing in highly efficient micro-LED displays and associated technology. Apple purchased the firm for an undisclosed sum in 2014.

Among other facets, including the ability to completely replace bulky capacitive sensor components with strategically placed infrared light emitters and sensors, today’s patent lays out a design for incorporating touch panels and fingerprint sensors using largely similar hardware. Interestingly, some embodiments jibe with rumors surrounding a rumored “iPhone 8” with full-face display, specifically rumblings about an “invisible” home button and Touch ID sensor.

Apple’s current fingerprint sensing technology requires a capacitive drive ring to be in contact with a user’s finger during operation. To create a completely clean display surface, as hinted at in multiple iPhone rumors, the company would need to fully integrate, or more likely remove, said drive ring from the fcover glass.

It is possible that Apple is looking to ditch Touch ID altogether as it moves to a new, more advanced system. For example, a touchscreen capable of acting as an input device and fingerprint scanner would save space and grant greater design flexibility. Finding a working technology, however, is difficult, as fingerprint sensor readings need to be highly accurate, much more so than a traditional touchscreen.

LuxVue believes it solved the puzzle, or is at least on its way to doing so. According to the patent, micro-LEDs can be used as a surrogate for standard capacitive touch arrays. Specifically, separate IR emitting and sensing diodes connect to driving and selection circuitry to create a subpixel circuit. Due to their small size, these IR diodes can be embedded into a display substrate alongside RGB LEDs or on a microchip mounted to said substrate.

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