The aluminum unibody construction that Apple uses for its MacBooks is approaching its fifth birthday, and while it still makes for very sturdy and attractive-looking laptops, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth. Older designs like the 2013 MacBook Air have us wondering how Apple can continue to make its products lighter and thinner without sacrificing the build quality the company is known for. A new patent, which the company applied for back in February and was granted today, may just point the way forward.
The patent in question (20130216740) is for “interlocking flexible segments formed from a rigid material,” and it describes a process by which “a substantially rigid” piece of material—including but not limited to plastic or metal—can be cut in a geometric pattern to make it bendable. Either a laser or “electrical discharge machining” can be used to make the cuts. The degree to which the “hinge” can be bent is “defined by the geometric pattern,” indicating that slightly different cuts could result in more or less bendable hinges. By using these specially cut pieces of material rather than traditional hinges, one could theoretically reduce both the thickness and the manufacturing cost of your device (at least, so says the patent).
Several photos included with the patent indicate potential uses for the technology—the first (and most interesting) would be in laptops, where the separate lid, bottom case, and hinge pieces could be completely replaced by a single strategically cut piece of material.
Hinges won’t work on a device that has to move around the contours of a body, especially different body shapes. Metal watch bands have multiple hinges in order to fit around the wrist.
But a wearable computer requires relative flat spaces and cannot easily reform itself to follow different sized bodies.
Something like this could do nicely. All that has to be done to conform to different wrists would be adjusting the length.
And I bet it would last longer than a hinge like this opening and closing a laptop cover. The stresses would be spread out.