Alphabet wants to build a wearable full of needles

Cellular AirPods, virtual art IRL, clip-on smartphones and other patents from Big Tech.

Alphabet wants to build a wearable full of needles

This watch's bite is worse than its bark.

Image: USPTO/Verily

Congratulations to making it through one full year of lockdown — and just about one year of these Big Tech patent roundups! While there is some light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic and we might be able to leave the house soon, these roundups aren't going anywhere. And thankfully, these companies keep delivering on the patent front. This week, Alphabet's Verily wants to build a smartwatch that can inject you with drugs, Amazon wants to protect you from phishing and Apple is thinking about how to add cellular radios to headphones. Perhaps soon I'll have to start narrating these reports if you're able to leave your phone at home.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Alphabet

Hanging virtual art IRL

Welcome to my art gallery. No, you're not wrong — there's nothing hanging on the walls. If you'd be so kind as to hold up the AR device of your choosing, though, you'll see that they are in fact emblazoned with some of the finest CryptoKitties and Nifties that cryptocurrency can buy. Perhaps that's a future that will come to pass at some wealthy elite gatherings in the future, thanks to the work being explored in this patent from Google. The patent outlines ways to anchor virtual images to the physical world that can be experienced on multiple AR platforms at once.

An injection wearable

Remembering whether you've taken your medicine every day is a surprisingly difficult task, especially considering that you do it every day. But this Verily patent aims to make it easier by combining two of the biggest buzzwords in health care today: automation and wearables. It envisions a watch that has tiny needles on the underside that will inject you with the doses of medicine you need, when you need them, and could even potentially scan vitals to ensure you need them. While this might be overkill for your blood-pressure medicine, it could be invaluable for someone needing insulin. Just don't forget to refill your watch.

Amazon

Emotion detection

In some future where Alexa could perceive human emotions, it might react differently to someone who's angry when asking it something versus someone who's calm. But everyone's different, and the system in this patent would be able to determine a baseline for each person who uses the assistant; some people are just louder than others or might raise their voice in some contexts, like losing a video game. The assistant could also take some actions based on what it perceives as the emotional state of the user: For example, if they sound agitated or tipsy, perhaps the assistant wouldn't let them drive. The patent also suggests that someone's emotions "while watching or hearing a commercial can be used for marketing research."

Stopping phishing attempts

Have you ever gotten an email that feels like it might be shady, but the URL looks right to you, and then you realize just in the nick of time that it actually has a "Ъ" instead of the letter "b" in it? That's what Amazon's patent is trying to prevent: By using a list of known major websites (especially those that might be sites hackers want access to), the system in the patent would compare the possibly shady URL with the list to see if it's legit. Phishers often subtly change URLs and build dummy sites in the hopes that unsuspecting prey aren't looking as close as they should be. But also, if you ever get a text, call or email that feels fishy — just assume that it is.

Apple

Cellular antennas for headphones

Apple has been on a slow path to replace the smartphone with wearables for years now, and this could be a pretty big piece of that puzzle. According to this patent, Apple is exploring the possibility of including cellular radios and antennas in wireless earbuds and headphones, as well as just about any other device imaginable, like glasses or vehicles. This patent is just a theoretical exploration of how various wireless networking tech works together in small devices, and hedges whether it's talking about accessories that can directly connect to the internet or need to connect to another device like a phone to do so. But it hints at a future where you could leave everything — your phone, your watch, your computer — at home, in favor of a small virtual assistant that lives in your ear. Assuming you have cell service.



Drones connected to cell networks

If we're ever going to get to a place where drones can fly themselves around, delivering goods, surveilling power lines and whatever else they might do in the future, they're going to need to be able to talk to each other and the world around them. This patent from Apple — a company not known to be doing much in the drone space, other than using them for its maps — explores how drones would hand off a data connection from one cell tower to another. It's quite similar to how a person's cell phone might, though people tend to only be traveling along one plane as they move; drones can fly in just about any orientation as they move from one cell tower to the next.

Lighting cars based on who's in them

Lighting in cars has never been great. Usually there are one or two unpowered lights in the roof, and maybe some lights along the doors that turn on when you open them. If you drop something on the floor of your car at nighttime, hopefully you don't need it before the sun comes back up. Apple's patent is rethinking that notion, illuminating where people might need it more accurately, potentially even with directable spotlights to find things dropped on the floor (an elusive AirPod, perhaps?) in a way that hopefully won't distract the driver too much. Assuming there is one.

Facebook

Predicting highlights in video clips

I hear that people are buying highlights like Pokémon cards, so perhaps this will come in handy. This patent envisions a system that figures out which sections of a video are worth sharing as highlights, based on previous users' interactions with the video. If everyone sends out a heart emoji when their favorite player catches an unbelievable pass, the system will know to suggest that future users share that clip as a highlight. It's like NFL Red Zone, but even more concise. The best part, though, is that the patent artist thought that there should be a team called the Seattle Llamas. I'd follow them.

Microsoft

Clip-on modules for smartphones

Trying to make modular smartphones was all the rage a few years ago, but given its difficulties, it never really took off. Microsoft envisions a slightly different approach with this patent: Instead of replacing existing parts of a smartphone, why not add new ones as needed? The example given in the patent is to have clip-on devices for controlling games on a phone, where the clips would wirelessly communicate with the phone to be able to control its software. Carrying a few small clips in my pocket does sound easier than lugging an entire Nintendo Switch with me on the train.

Climate

This carbon capture startup wants to clean up the worst polluters

The founder and CEO of point-source carbon capture company Carbon Clean discusses what the startup has learned, the future of carbon capture technology, as well as the role of companies like his in battling the climate crisis.

Carbon Clean CEO Aniruddha Sharma told Protocol that fossil fuels are necessary, at least in the near term, to lift the living standards of those who don’t have access to cars and electricity.

Photo: Carbon Clean

Carbon capture and storage has taken on increasing importance as companies with stubborn emissions look for new ways to meet their net zero goals. For hard-to-abate industries like cement and steel production, it’s one of the few options that exist to help them get there.

Yet it’s proven incredibly challenging to scale the technology, which captures carbon pollution at the source. U.K.-based company Carbon Clean is leading the charge to bring down costs. This year, it raised a $150 million series C round, which the startup said is the largest-ever funding round for a point-source carbon capture company.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Workplace

Why companies cut staff after raising millions

Are tech firms blowing millions in funding just weeks after getting it? Experts say it's more complicated than that.

Bolt, Trade Republic, HomeLight, and Stord all drew attention from funding announcements that happened just weeks or days before layoffs.

Photo: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

Fintech startup Bolt was one of the first tech companies to slash jobs, cutting 250 employees, or a third of its staff, in May. For some workers, the pain of layoffs was a shock not only because they were the first, but also because the cuts came just four months after Bolt had announced a $355 million series E funding round and achieved a peak valuation of $11 billion.

“Bolt employees were blind sided because the CEO was saying just weeks ago how everything is fine,” an anonymous user wrote on the message board Blind. “It has been an extremely rough day for 1/3 of Bolt employees,” another user posted. “Sadly, I was one of them who was let go after getting a pay-raise just a couple of weeks ago.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Climate

The fight to define the carbon offset market's future

The world’s largest carbon offset issuer is fighting a voluntary effort to standardize the industry. And the fate of the climate could hang in the balance.

It has become increasingly clear that scaling the credit market will first require clear standards and transparency.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

There’s a major fight brewing over what kind of standards will govern the carbon offset market.

A group of independent experts looking to clean up the market’s checkered record and the biggest carbon credit issuer on the voluntary market is trying to influence efforts to define what counts as a quality credit. The outcome could make or break an industry increasingly central to tech companies meeting their net zero goals.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Policy

White House AI Bill of Rights lacks specific guidance for AI rules

The document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is long on tech guidance, but short on restrictions for AI.

While the document provides extensive suggestions for how to incorporate AI rights in technical design, it does not include any recommendations for restrictions on the use of controversial forms of AI.

Photo: Ana Lanza/Unsplash

It was a year in the making, but people eagerly anticipating the White House Bill of Rights for AI will have to continue waiting for concrete recommendations for future AI policy or restrictions.

Instead, the document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is legally non-binding and intended to be used as a handbook and a “guide for society” that could someday inform government AI legislation or regulations.

Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights features a list of five guidelines for protecting people in relation to AI use:

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins