Amazon wants to build an autonomous car army​

The best patent applications of the week.

Amazon wants to build an autonomous car army​

Amazon filed a patent for building a little autonomous car army.

Image: DailyPM/Noun Project and Protocol

Big Tech didn't disappoint this week, with a few patent applications that made me do a double take. Google wants to make the content of photos searchable, Amazon wants to build an army (of autonomous cars), Apple wants to help you party and Facebook loves straps.

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

Photo search engine

I don't have any allergies, but I have family and friends who are allergic to everything from gluten to peanuts to sesame seeds. Menus often have little notations next to items that may contain gluten or nuts, but not always, and that can be scary.

This patent imagines a way for you to take a picture of something, where your phone acts as a search engine, using the information in the picture as the "search term." In the example images, a full menu is depicted, including chips and salsa in the appetizer section. The patent describes how the phone turns the text into a selectable box. If you click on chips and salsa, it could access information you gave it upfront (in this case, your allergies), compare it to the list of ingredients and then alert you if there's something that might make you have a reaction. And if you don't have any allergies, you could use this system to find pictures of chips and salsa, recipes for chips and salsa, and maybe even the best nearby place to get chips and salsa.

Now I want chips and salsa.

Amazon

A little army of delivery vehicles

This patent is blowing my mind. Autonomous delivery vehicles are becoming more popular, with companies like Nuro getting permission to launch a fleet of driverless cars to make local deliveries. But, as this patent notes, autonomous delivery equipment, such as sensors, navigation equipment and processors, can be very pricey. And if the car itself is small, all the equipment might not leave much room for groceries.

Instead, this patent imagines one car acting as a primary car, housing all the necessary equipment and sending commands to other vehicles that don't need all that equipment. The primary car could send a bunch of other cars off to do other deliveries. In the end, there's just a little army of autonomous cars being directed by one primary car, and I don't know about you, but that sounds both cool and terrifying.

Apple

Music party

Being in charge of the music at a party is a little intimidating. You have to make sure that the good vibes remain constant, that the volume isn't too annoying and that you are playing the right mix of music to make everyone happy.

This patent imagines a way for one phone to hook up to speakers around the house, but other people can pair their phones to control playback and volume, so that the burden of being a great DJ doesn't fall on one person. Or if a bunch of people are watching Netflix streamed by one phone, everyone could connect so that everyone is in charge of the remote.

Facebook

Research tool for workplace emotions

Companies rely on employee surveys to get a general sense of how people feel about different aspects of the company. But those surveys take time and effort, and getting a 100% return rate is difficult. Facebook wants to personalize and streamline gathering employee sentiment data by programming chatbots to see how employees are feeling about their workplace. Employees can choose to talk to a chatbot at any time of day, engage in natural conversations and the chatbot could gather and analyze the data. I imagine people would rather vent to a chatbot than try to rank how they feel on a scale of one to 10.

Similarly, Facebook wants to scrape social media data to tell a brand whether the brand is being destroyed on social media, which could lead to stock prices falling. That way the brand can act appropriately and quickly.

Big week for straps

Last week Facebook filed a patent for a yarn strap; this week, Facebook wants to create a way to attach various straps to the VR device. This way, multiple people can use the device and personalize how the strap fits.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

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Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Policy

How the internet got privatized and how the government could fix it

Author Ben Tarnoff discusses municipal broadband, Web3 and why closing the “digital divide” isn’t enough.

The Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative, which kicked off in May, will roll out grant programs to expand and improve broadband infrastructure, teach digital skills and improve internet access for “everyone in America by the end of the decade.”

Decisions about who is eligible for these grants will be made based on the Federal Communications Commission’s broken, outdated and incorrect broadband maps — maps the FCC plans to update only after funding has been allocated. Inaccurate broadband maps are just one of many barriers to getting everyone in the country successfully online. Internet service providers that use government funds to connect rural and low-income areas have historically provided those regions with slow speeds and poor service, forcing community residents to find reliable internet outside of their homes.

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Aditi Mukund
Aditi Mukund is Protocol’s Data Analyst. Prior to joining Protocol, she was an analyst at The Daily Beast and NPR where she wrangled data into actionable insights for editorial, audience, commerce, subscription, and product teams. She holds a B.S in Cognitive Science, Human Computer Interaction from The University of California, San Diego.
Fintech

How I decided to exit my startup’s original business

Bluevine got its start in factoring invoices for small businesses. CEO Eyal Lifshitz explains why it dropped that business in favor of “end-to-end banking.”

"[I]t was a realization that we can't be successful at both at the same time: You've got to choose."

Photo: Bluevine

Click banner image for more How I decided series

Bluevine got its start in fintech by offering a modern version of invoice factoring, the centuries-old practice where businesses sell off their accounts receivable for up-front cash. It’s raised $240 million in venture capital and about $700 million in total financing since its founding in 2013 by serving small businesses. But along the way, it realized it was better to focus on the checking accounts and lines of credit it provided customers than its original product. It now manages some $500 million in checking-account deposits.

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Ryan Deffenbaugh
Ryan Deffenbaugh is a reporter at Protocol focused on fintech. Before joining Protocol, he reported on New York's technology industry for Crain's New York Business. He is based in New York and can be reached at rdeffenbaugh@protocol.com.
Enterprise

The Roe decision could change how advertisers use location data

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restricting use of location data. But that may be changing.

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restrictions on the use of location data. But that may be changing.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, the likelihood for location data to be used against people suddenly shifted from a mostly hypothetical scenario to a realistic threat. Although location data has a variety of purposes — from helping municipalities assess how people move around cities to giving reliable driving directions — it’s the voracious appetite of digital advertisers for location information that has fueled the creation and growth of a sector selling data showing who visited specific points on the map, when, what places they came from and where they went afterwards.

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restrictions on the use of location data. But that may be changing. The overturning of Roe not only puts the wide availability of location data for advertising in the spotlight, it could serve as a turning point compelling the digital ad industry to take action to limit data associated with sensitive places before the government does.

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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.

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