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Apple-Liquidmetal Joint Patent Could Enable Futuristic-Looking Mobile Devices 102

Posted by samzenpus
from the here-comes-the-i-1000 dept.
MojoKid writes "Apple may be closer than previously thought to using Liquidmetal's technology to manufacture casings for its mobile devices. In a patent filing, a company called 'Crucible Intellectual Properties, LLC' (which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Liquidmetal dedicated to Apple work) laid claim to a manufacturing process for creating 'bulk amorphous alloy sheets', also known as bulk metallic glass (BMG). The process, called 'float glass', involves two layers of molten metal, and the result is a glass-like metal that allegedly would be strong, incredibly lightweight, corrosion-resistant--and low cost. Further, the manufacturing process would ostensibly make it far easier to create specific items, as it removes some of the barriers and issues related to forming and cutting metal, and specifically BMG."
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Apple-Liquidmetal Joint Patent Could Enable Futuristic-Looking Mobile Devices

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Another Terminator tech coming true.... Are we there yet? I want to burn alive in a swing :)

    • by bloodhawk (813939)
      I just want to see the Summer Glau Terminator fembots. I can die happy then.
    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @03:44AM (#44315423) Homepage Journal

      Despite the exciting name, all this stuff does is protect against bounces. Its appearance is somewhere between glass and metal. This better article from the site [hothardware.com] demonstrates the absurd amount of elastic energy it can handle.

      Also, let's drop the "enable" part from the title: this product was already in use in both Apple products and products from other companies and has just been bought out exclusively by Apple as far as the tech sector is concerned. If anything that's a loss.

      But, hey, I'm glad to know that we can finally have futuristic-looking mobile devices due to this exclusive patent licence! Thanks guys!

      • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @04:29AM (#44315535)

        You can injection mold it, too.

        (BTW the only Apple product currently using it is a version of the paper-clip substitute they ship with the iPhone in some regions.)

        • If you can injection mold it, that makes me wonder what it's melting point is.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:08AM (#44316267)

            If you can injection mold it, that makes me wonder what it's melting point is.

            According to wikipedia, there is no melting point. It just gradually gets softer the hotter you make it.

            At around 400C it's soft enough to be pushed into a mould.

            • I call BS. Everything has a melting point. Drop that sucker in the Sun and watch it melt.
              • by mog007 (677810)

                It might be like carbon dioxide, at standard pressures, it can't exist as a liquid, it'll sublimate instead of melt.

              • by iksbob (947407)

                Yes, it probably does have a melting point. However, this amorphous alloy's melting point is apparently below room temperature.
                Similarly, glass (the regular transparent stuff) is technically a liquid at room temperature. Its viscosity is high enough that visible sag doesn't occur within a window's (for example) typical life span. As glass is heated, its viscosity progressively decreases until it flows and can be formed as one would expect of a liquid.
                Same deal with this alloy.

                • by WiseWeasel (92224)

                  Glass is a solid at ambient temperatures, and does not flow at all below its melting temperature of 500-600 degrees Celsius. The idea that window panes flow downwards over centuries is a myth which has been disproved. Blown glass window panes were thicker on one edge, and were typically installed with the thick side down for stability. There were cases of panes being installed with the thick side up or sideways, thought to be through negligence.

                  http://dwb.unl.edu/Teacher/NSF/C01/C01Links/www.ualberta.ca/~bd [unl.edu]

              • by Sockatume (732728)

                Glasses have glass transitions, which aren't the same thing as melting.

                • The melting point of glass at normal pressure is less than or equal to 1600C (2912F).

                  LMGTFY [lmgtfy.com]

                  Of course this assumes a pure silica glass, which doesn't exist because then it's just fused quartz. But as all the forms of glass introduce various molecular impurities which actually lower the melting point, this is the upper end. ALL glass will melt at this temperature. Glass transitions all happen at much lower temperatures. Vycor having the highest I know of between 1200 and 1520C. It can actually be used as

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        Despite the exciting name, all this stuff does is protect against bounces.

        Huh? Their website says it's brittle: http://liquidmetal.com/properties/properties/ [liquidmetal.com]

        Now the entire iPhone can shatter when you drop it.

      • As a side effect it'll also allow your phone to double as a superball - with some rectangle shaping and those patented round corners you'll never find it again - not only are you holding it wrong, you're also dropping it wrong...

        • by cdrudge (68377)

          With the trend for smart phones becoming smart phablets, you'll have a killer ping pong paddle where ever you go with it.

      • by milkmage (795746)

        ...so Apple/Liquid Metal have filed for a patent "today" that was undoubtedly secured back around the time that video was posted for the original Liquid Metal - back in 2007. Apple bought them in 2010, FOR THAT PATENT.

        Here's the youtube link.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rOEBR3DcqN0 [youtube.com]

        the patent system may be fucked up, but a patent from the same outfit(s) for the same material doesn't seem reasonable.

        watch the video for the liquid metal watch bezel (explains why Omegas are so damn

      • by celtic_hackr (579828) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @11:26AM (#44318023) Journal

        Despite the exciting name, all this stuff does is protect against bounces.

        I'm not sure that's an accurate statement. Here's my reasoning. The product is described as twice as strong than titanium alloys. Liquuidmetal is a zirconium alloy (earlier forms included titanium in the mix with zirconium). Anyway. As strength increase so does brittleness. Or the inventers are due for a Nobel Prize in mechanical engineering. What this alloy is, is an amorphous alloy, rather than a crystalline alloy. There are uses for both alloys, but there is always a trade-off between strength and brittleness. The harder it is, the more brittle it will get. Bronze is also an amorphous alloy. Without seeing Liquidmetal's microstructure, I really can't comment much on the alloy's properties. But, I'm guessing that the molding process includes some form of work-hardening on the metal as it cools. That would be the logical thing to do to increase the strength, while preventing too much crystalization. The alloys look to be in the class of superalloys, but I lack enough information to classify them.

        The linked to video shows a ball to demonstrate it's ability to absorb shock, but anyone who's ever played with glass marbles knows that the shape has every thing to do with it. A round ball has distinctly different properties than a flat sheet. What the article fails to point out, is that the attempt to use this metal in the flat part of the golf clubs resulted in a useful life of about 40 hits, before shattering.

        That's not to say they done some really cool engineering work, and Apple will be coming out with some very cool cases in the future. But the laws of Physics still apply.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Not Terminator; the "liquid" refers to its manufacturing. This is more like Star Trek IV's transparent aluminum.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You can get transparent aluminium in a way, it's called Alon. And it's made by a company called Surmet
        Info : http://www.surmet.com/technology/alon-optical-ceramics/index.php

        It seems it can be used in production in a lot of the same ways Liquidmetal can.

      • by Bartles (1198017)
        Actually the "liquid" descriptor refers to the fact that is has no crystalline structure, like a liquid or glass.
  • ... "hold it the wrong way" wasn't good enough, so they plan now to make a mobile phone case which entirely shield out the radio waves?
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      All-metal mobile phone bodies go from the Nokia Eseries of about five years ago to the current iPhone 5 and HTC One. That's not counting tablets, laptops... you put in a radio-transparent window made out of a different material.

      • All-metal mobile phone bodies go from the Nokia Eseries of about five years ago to the current iPhone 5 and HTC One. That's not counting tablets, laptops... you put in a radio-transparent window made out of a different material.

        Or make the case itself the aerial (if possible).

    • You do know that there's at least one electrical engineer on Apple's payroll, right?

  • by future assassin (639396) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @03:23AM (#44315365) Homepage

    see through? There be whales captain!

    • by sberge (2725113)
      Unfortunately, glassy metals only have an atomic structure similar to glass, and not the appearance of glass.
      • by mysidia (191772) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @05:10AM (#44315653)

        Unfortunately, glassy metals only have an atomic structure similar to glass, and not the appearance of glass.

        Or fortunately... depending on how you look at it. Apple would manufacture the device as a single solid piece of material molded around the internal components, and you would NEVER be able to open up your iPhone or tablet and have a peek inside, As-Opposed to it just being really really hard to do so....

  • by Ignacio (1465) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @03:31AM (#44315385)

    What can we do with this that we can't already do?

    • Re:"Enable"? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @04:15AM (#44315503)

      Make a metal body that deforms and returns to its original shape, like plastic, rather than deforming and assuming a new shape, like current metals. Also it can be formed by casting rather than machining. It's exciting stuff, although it'll probably be for a few troublesome components rather than whole phone bodies for the immediate future given the cost.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Also it can be formed by casting rather than machining.

        Any cast metal needs machining afterwards, even if it's just to clean up the sprue area and to cut screw threads. Difficulties in casting are not why we don't see conventional metals used for consumer electronics.

        • by whit3 (318913)

          Any cast metal needs machining afterwards, even if it's just to clean up the sprue area and to cut screw threads. Difficulties in casting are not why we don't see conventional metals used ...

          Yes, and no: most cast metal shrinks markedly when it cools, so there's an oversize pattern (two percent for iron) used in making the mold. Amorphous metal has almost the same density when it's cool, it shrinks only slightly (an order of magnitude less shrinkage).

      • Re: "Enable"? (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Did you ever held a Liquidmetal SanDisk pen drive. I have unexciting news for you. Liquidmetal looks like metal and feels like metal. It is very hard, but has a subtle flexibility, just like a thin steel sheet. The sandisk had some rough/porous sections that I think are the result of the die cast process, and other shiny sections that seem to have been polished. In summary, it has nothing in its appearance to be excited about.
        It could provide manufacturing savings when compared to other methods, however. Ma

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      OK, this is a different tech (I should submit this) but U of I is working on biodegradable cell phones [kare11.com] that dissolve in water.

  • The actual patent (Score:5, Informative)

    by GeekWithAKnife (2717871) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @03:44AM (#44315425)

    Calm down before you all jump on the "Enable" wagon. It's actually a decently details filing with less ambiguous wording than assumed.

    Abstract: "Embodiments herein relate to a method for forming a bulk solidifying amorphous alloy sheets have different surface finish including a “fire” polish surface like that of a float glass. In one embodiment, a first molten metal alloy is poured on a second molten metal of higher density in a float chamber to form a sheet of the first molten that floats on the second molten metal and cooled to form a bulk solidifying amorphous alloy sheet. In another embodiment, a molten metal is poured on a conveyor conveying the sheet of the first molten metal on a conveyor and cooled to form a bulk solidifying amorphous alloy sheet. The cooling rate such that a time-temperature profile during the cooling does not traverse through a region bounding a crystalline region of the metal alloy in a time-temperature-transformation (TTT) diagram. "
    This is it -> http://www.freepatentsonline.com/8485245.html [freepatentsonline.com]
    PDF -> http://www.freepatentsonline.com/8485245.pdf [freepatentsonline.com]
    • Remember, they just licensed it. they did not create it so it's not automatically deserved of iHate. (lol)
    • by mysidia (191772)

      Calm down before you all jump on the "Enable" wagon. It's actually a decently details filing with less ambiguous wording than assumed.

      That is an oddity... technology patents are normally supposed to be a possible-invention-space filling function; where you have one invention, but the patent is designed to fill out as much of the space of other possible inventions as possible --- often the wording is apparently intentionally vague, and they try to say as little specific as possible, to avoid havi

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Patents are important to protect innovative small little startup companies such as Apple against all too mighty competition.

    • by Quila (201335)

      The patent protects the small company Liquidmetal so that Apple had to pay $$$ to get the technology.

  • pilkington method (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Titus Groan (2834723) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @04:04AM (#44315477)
    sure as hell sounds like the pilkington method to me. is applying it to a different material sufficient enough to warrant a new patent?
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Temperature control to ensure it remains glassy seems to be the trick.

    • The Pilkington method, as claimed in patent 2,911,759, describes a method for producing and manufacturing glass. Based on the wording of that patent, it seems only to have ever been considered for, only describes, and, therefore, only applies to what is traditionally thought of as "glass" - the hard clear stuff made mostly of silica. As well, it seems quite narrowly focused on such silica glass, effectively limiting its applicability to other materials. The patent in question here, 8,485,245 B1, talks ab

  • If my phone bounces like the ball does in the demo video here [hothardware.com], them for the first time in my life, I will happily pay a premium for a shiny apple case.

    Imagine the hand-eye dexterity you'd gain from catching your phone on the rebound from the pavement.
    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      If they have an exclusive licence to it you'll have to, regardless of how much it takes to manufacture.

  • Cheap, bulk amorphous metal?

    Never mind iPhone cases - that stuff can be used to make transformers more efficient and more compact. If you could get it cheap, it could potentially cut a percent or two off of energy transmission losses.

  • As Apple now quite likely will be the only IT tech company using Liquidmetal I doubt that this alleged lower cost will be passed on to the consumers.
    • by TheP4st (1164315)
      Wow! A comment that's highlighting normal corporate behavior get modded flamebait. Where is the /. of past?
  • by dadelbunts (1727498) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:55AM (#44315941)
    LIQUID METAL. Now your phone will morph metal swordhands and stab the shit out of you.
  • i. for one, welcome our new liquid metal overlords.

  • Here's a link to the YouTube video [youtube.com] in question.

    If you have HTML5 enabled in your YouTube settings, it will play without requiring Flash.

  • Exclusive License (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @10:01AM (#44317091)

    Liquidmetal isn't anything new, Samsung and Nokia have used it on some phones. The distinction is that they've generate been restricted to smaller components and not entire shells because of the expense and limitations in manufacturing. Interestingly enough, this technology was developed at Caltech and is marketed by this Liquidmetal Technologies. Perhaps someone more informed can explain how that works.

    As far as the technology itself is concerned, it seems promising. However, from what I've read, the benefit isn't that they can produce "futuristic-looking" devices but rather that this metal is supposed to be much more wear resistant. It is true that the forming process is more akin to molding plastic, but I don't think we've been restricted by our ability to shape metal in recent years. Whether this tech lives up to promises remains to be seen. From what I've read of owners of Liquidmetal equipped Omega watches aren't too impressed; wear resistance doesn't seem to be any better than other materials the company has used.

    I think it's one of those things where on paper it looks impressive, but in real life the forces these materials are subjected to generally far exceeds their tolerances. It's kind of like gorilla glass. People still manage to scratch up their screens when they don't break them outright. But still, any technological evolution is a good one.

    The thing that surprised me was to learn that Apple acquired an exclusive, perpetual license with the company to use this technology in consumer electronics. So this isn't an example of Apple innovating, but rather preventing any competitors from getting their hands on the same technology.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      Well, the way I see it, Apple gets to try it and see if it actually works. If it does, as soon as Liquidmetal's patents have expired, you'll see a bunch of other companies start developing the same tech and just go around their patents. If it doesn't, Apple's wasted money (not that they care or anything, considering how much they have).
    • by Quila (201335)

      So this isn't an example of Apple innovating, but rather preventing any competitors from getting their hands on the same technology.

      Apple licensed the basic liquidmetal techology years ago, but is developing it into something that can be mass-manufactured. The first two names on this patent are Apple employees.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Liquidmetal isn't anything new, Samsung and Nokia have used it on some phones. The distinction is that they've generate been restricted to smaller components and not entire shells because of the expense and limitations in manufacturing. Interestingly enough, this technology was developed at Caltech and is marketed by this Liquidmetal Technologies. Perhaps someone more informed can explain how that works.

      As far as the technology itself is concerned, it seems promising. However, from what I've read, the benef

  • In a era of emerging 3D printing of products that meet any design requirement for peoples daily lives, we have the Mac's at Apple yelling, "fire up the furnaces!"

    And stock holders are left to wonder why their investment in Apple is souring.
    • What exactly are you trying to say? That "firing up the furnaces" implies Apple is behind the times, therefore the dip in their stock price is justified? That 3D printers will somehow scale up to meet manufacturing needs at an output level that Apple needs? Or that people are stupid, which is why their stock price is low? I can make no sense of what you wrote.
      • It's clear your not an investor of AAPL, or you would understand the stock reference. As for, "scaling up", that terminology was fading away towards the end of the last millennium. I think that if 3D printers can build jaw bones, then pretty boxes should be straight forward. As for the reference of even using 3D printers; when their done making pretty boxes, they can be easily reprogrammed to make other useful objects, try that using 'float glass', it involves two layers of molten metal; really? As for just
  • Is it Glass or is it Metal? This may sound like a dumb question, but I really can't tell:

    "'Crucible Intellectual Properties, LLC' (...) laid claim to a manufacturing process for creating 'bulk amorphous alloy sheets', also known as bulk metallic glass (BMG)."

    "The process, called 'float glass' ..." (Incidentally, float glass [wikipedia.org] is nothing new, let alone patentable)

    "and the result is a glass-like metal" ... and all that said, I was under the impression this stuff was metal. Either way, this is a pretty
    • by iggymanz (596061)

      The stuff just looks like metal (you can see samples on LiquidMetal's web site). Things made out of it will be no more visually appealing than any other metal item (ie it can be finished or painted or anodized like other metal objects). Saying it will make "Futuristic Looking" devices is blind stupid Apple fanboy talk. It is only the lack of crystalline structure that makes it like "glass"

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