Jan 27, 2017 | By Benedict

Apple has filed a patent for an X-ray device that would be used to scan iPhones, iPads, and other tech to check for internal faults. The patent also suggests the inspection device could be 3D printed.

It is generally advisable not to get too worked up about patent applications, since tech companies are more-or-less obliged to file as many of them as they can, regardless of whether they intend to make the products described. This practice helps companies generate a large portfolio of intellectual property, which can bring in huge amounts of money when other companies end up wanting to make similar products.

But despite the occasionally cynical nature of patenting, you can’t help but be a little bit curious when a forward-thinking company like Apple registers a new invention, and we were accordingly excited when a new Apple patent emerged on the US Patent & Trademark Office website this week. (It was found by Patently Apple, an unofficial Apple invention tracker.) The tech giant’s latest blueprints concern an X-ray scanning system that would allow engineers to inspect Apple products like iPhones and iPads.

The patent, originally filed in Q3 2015, describes a fixture designed to hold one or more electric devices (iPhones, iPads etc.) in order to perform a computerized tomography (CT) scan on said devices. A radiation source would emit (X-ray) radiation, which would then be picked up by a detection mechanism after passing through the electronic device. This detection system would be able to provide an accurate 2D image of the device.

Apple inspectors would also be able to obtain 3D images of the electronic devices being scanned. While the system is being operated, the scanned electronic device could be rotated 360 degrees, allowing the detection mechanism to pick up images of the device from many angles. The collection of these 2D images could then be spliced together to create a 3D mesh of the device, showing both its internal and external features.

Images: Patently Apple

While many people will have undergone X-rays or CT scans for broken bones or other ailments, these days you’re just as likely to injure your fragile smartphone as your own body. So with the X-ray fixture, Apple would be able to 3D scan the internal elements of a device without opening it up—either after the customer has bought the device or as a quality control stage in the factory.

Excitingly, the Apple patent suggests that such a system—if it were ever produced—could be fabricated using 3D printing techniques, since the use of additive manufacturing would enable Apple to create plastic fixtures of different sizes to fit different devices. Sadly for us, the patent also states that injection molding would be considered as an alternate option.

Given how difficult it is to open up an Apple product, the idea of 3D scanning them to check for internal defects seems like a good idea. Let’s just hope the radiation doesn’t cause any damage to those expensive electronics.



Posted in 3D Technology



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