Apple eyes gadgets with built-in solar panels

Company buffs its green credentials with another patent application relating to solar cells integrated onto the surface of small devices, such as iPods.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica

Apple has its eye on the sun as a source of energy for iPods.

Company employees have applied for a patent relating to powering electronic devices using integrated solar cells, the Patently Apple site has uncovered. Called Power Management Circuitry and Solar Cells, the application dates back to August 2008 and was officially published Thursday.

It appears, though, that it's not the first Apple patent application relating to solar-powered gadgets. In October 2006, a more general patent under the title "Solar Cells on Portable Devices" was filed by at least one of the same people. When that application was published in 2008, it was traced back to Apple iPod engineers.

From an older patent application traced back to Apple: an iPod with integrated solar cells. Screen capture by Martin LaMonica/CNET

Rather than have a separate solar panel, the 2006 patent application envisions a small device, such as an iPod, with a transparent solar cell on its surfaces.

The more recent patent application deals with power electronics for managing electricity flow from multiple solar cells on a device. For example, the patent application outlines methods for ensuring that there is sufficient voltage from solar cells to power the device or charge its battery.

Disclosure of the solar-power-related patent application comes a week after a patent application from Apple relating to home energy management surfaced. In that case, Apple engineers described a method for powering multiple electronic devices efficiently using a home's wiring to manage the flow of power and data.