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.

Fintech

Affirm CEO: 'Buy now, pay later' becomes more attractive in a slump

With consumers grappling with rising rates and prices, the question of whether they’ll still buy now and pay later is open. Max Levchin thinks Affirm knows the answer.

Affirm CEO Max Levchin spoke with Protocol about "buy now, pay later."

Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Shortly after Affirm went public last year, CEO Max Levchin told Protocol that he saw “an ocean of opportunities” for the “buy now, pay later” pioneer. Wall Street agreed.

Affirm’s stock soared in its trading debut as the company blazed a trail for a fast-growing alternative to the credit cards that Levchin says consumers are increasingly rejecting.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Businesses are evolving, with current events and competition serving as the catalysts for technology adoption. Events from the pandemic to the ongoing war in Ukraine have exposed the fragility of global supply chains. The topic of sustainability is now on every board room agenda. Industries from manufacturing to retail and everything in between are exploring the latest innovations like process automation, machine learning and AI to identify potential safeguards against future disruption. But according to a recent survey from Boston Consulting Group, while 80% of companies are adopting digital solutions to navigate existing business challenges or opportunities like the ones mentioned, only about 30% successfully digitally transform their business.

For the last 50 years, SAP has worked closely with our customers to solve some of the world’s most intricate problems. We have also seen, and have been a part of, rapid accelerations in technology in response. Across industries, certain paths have emerged to help businesses manage the unexpected challenges over the last few years.

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DJ Paoni

DJ Paoni is the President of SAP North America and is responsible for the strategy, day-to-day operations, and overall customer success in the United States and Canada. Dedicated to helping customers become best-run businesses, DJ has established himself as a trusted advisor who places a high priority on their success. He works with many of SAP North America's 155,000 customers and helps them adopt business and technology best practices across 25 different industries.

Workplace

The post-layoff playbook: How to avoid 'survivor's guilt'

Taking care of your laid-off employees is important. But how can you restore trust with the employees who make it through?

Employees who survive layoffs are charged with holding the company together. Whether or not managers listen to their concerns can make or break a company’s culture.

Photo: Justin Pumfrey/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Jennifer Burke was on her way to Hawaii for her daughter’s wedding when Zillow followed through on its long-anticipated layoff. She asked her manager to break the news to her by message in the car. You’re one of the safe ones, her manager responded.

“I felt relieved, of course,” Burke said. “I felt apprehensive. I felt sympathy for my co-workers that I knew were going to be laid off.”

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Enterprise

Why chip companies need the college students dazzled by software jobs

New chip fabricating plants will need tens of thousands of skilled workers who don’t currently exist. Training them means persuading students to look away from jobs at big tech companies.

Intel employees in clean room "bunny suits" work at Intel's D1X factory in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Photo: Intel Corporation

Every morning, Isaiah Morris drives his white Nissan Altima eight miles down Arizona state Route 101 to a sprawling, low-level office park in South Tempe. Inside one of the unassuming buildings adjacent to GoDaddy’s headquarters and a couple of Amazon offices, the Arizona State University student dons a lab coat, safety shoes and prescription goggles as he helps engineer chemicals for a chip manufacturing process called planarization.

Morris is an unusual 21-year-old. When they graduate college, many of his tech-minded peers will opt to work for the likes of Apple, Google and other household names that have enjoyed meteoric growth over the last decade. Jobs at those tech companies symbolize prestige for graduates and their parents in a way that careers with chipmakers like Intel do not.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Policy

A new UK visa could steal your top tech talent

Without meaningful immigration reform, U.S.-trained foreign graduates could head across the pond.

The U.S. immigration system turns away hundreds of thousands of highly skilled tech workers every year.

Photo: Ben Fathers/AFP via Getty Images

Almost as soon as he took office, President Biden began the work of undoing a lot of the damage the Trump administration did to the U.S. H-1B visa program. He allowed a Trump-era ban on entry by H-1B holders to expire and withdrew a Trump proposal to prohibit H-1B visa holders’ spouses from working in the U.S. More recently, his administration has expanded the number of degrees considered eligible for special STEM OPT visas.

But the U.S. immigration system still turns away hundreds of thousands of highly skilled — and in many cases U.S.-educated — tech workers every year. Now the U.K. is trying to capitalize on the United States’ failure to reform its policy regarding high-skilled immigrants with a new visa that could poach American-trained tech talent across the pond. And there’s good reason to believe it could work.

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Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu

Kwasi (kway-see) is a fellow at Protocol with an interest in tech policy and climate. Previously, he covered global religion news at the Associated Press in New York. Before that, he was a freelance journalist based out of Accra, Ghana, covering social justice, health, and environment stories. His reporting has been published in The New York Times, Quartz, CNN, The Guardian, and Public Radio International. He can be reached at kasiedu@protocol.com.

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