Power

Amazon wants to use delivery drones to surveil your house

Plus ads in AR, phones in VR, offline Siri and other patents from Big Tech.

Amazon wants to use delivery drones to surveil your house

One of Amazon's prototype delivery drones.

Photo: Amazon

It's that time of the week again. Take some time away from your busy Sunday to check out these weird and wonderful patents from Big Tech. As ever, there's a focus on augmented and virtual reality: Amazon is looking for how to advertise in AR, Facebook is looking into AR headphones, and Microsoft wants to turn your phone into a VR controller. And then there's Apple, which just wants to make your car's air conditioning a bit more enjoyable.

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

A cryptic Waymo sign

Waymo won a design patent for a "3D sign," with no more information on what it's for in the document. It looks like a little pylon from football games, but it has … something … to do with self-driving cars. From one of the drawings, it looks like maybe a sign to show where you should stand to wait for a car, or where one will drop you off. Perhaps when things get back to normal and people start getting cabs again, we'll find out.

Auto-generated meeting notes

Have you ever tried to pay attention in a meeting while also taking notes? Maybe it's just me, but my brain refuses to think of creative things to say while also taking down what everyone else is saying. So something like what Google's new patent is suggesting would be super useful. The patent suggests a system where the meeting leader could set up a document, and anyone with a calendar event within proximity of their device gets access. They can all contribute to the document together in real time, adding notes together. The document could also suggest ways to make the notes more useful and accessible, easing some of the burden off my slow brain.

Suggested events

The concept behind this patent is pretty well covered at this point: using a virtual assistant listening to a text conversation between two people to suggest restaurants, movies and other things based on the conversation. But I had to share this example conversation in this patent. I don't know if this was written by computers trying to prove they can pass the Turing test or what, but I enjoy a good "movie = relax" and like finding discount on my shopping, too.

Amazon

Putting ads on your body in AR

If AR becomes big, especially if AR glasses take off, it's almost a certainty that advertisers will glom onto it. When the internet shifted from the desktop to mobile, there was a big question around Google and Facebook's businesses and whether they would be able to shift with it. But that debate has long been settled, and it seems companies are already thinking about the next paradigm. Who isn't excited about the prospect of looking at their hands in AR and seeing banner ads plastered all over them? You'd look like a NASCAR driver at all times. There would be useful applications to technology like this, though, like using your hands as surfaces for controls in AR, but hopefully the ads won't get in the way.

Home security via drone

In Amazon's vision of the future, drones are going to be blanketing the sky, delivering packages to us, day in, day out. According to this patent, as these drones proliferate, they could also be used for other purposes while they're flying around. Amazon envisions using the drones' cameras for home surveillance, scanning for things like broken windows and people on a property. Because who wouldn't want the company behind Ring and Rekognition to be scanning for whether you're home all the time?

Alexa knows when you're home

If the flying surveillance drones weren't enough, Amazon is also looking into how to glean more information out of you from the devices in your house. Using camera and microphone sensors as well as radio-frequency detectors, you could theoretically ask Alexa things like, "Is someone in the living room?" Hopefully you get an answer you're expecting, especially if it's the middle of the night. Otherwise the next thing you're going to be asking Alexa is to call the cops.

Apple

Siri, offline

Siri is sometimes there for you when you need a light turned on or a playlist shuffled, but it can only help when it has access to the internet. But there's a lot that would be helpful for it to do that wouldn't need the internet. Processors and GPUs are continually getting more powerful and efficient, to the point where the complex task of understanding people's voices can be done without having to call out to the cloud. Now, if someone could just make Siri a little more useful, internet or otherwise.

A Tesla-like A/C system

If you've ever been in a Tesla on a hot day, you've probably noticed that the air conditioning is a little more effective than in the average car. It seems that Apple (for the car it's definitely not maybe working on) might be working on something similar. Instead of having a few vents by the passengers, which never seem to hit you where you want them to (ever had freezing hands while driving and the rest of you is sweltering?), Apple's design, similar to Tesla's, seems to be for one long vent across the entirety of the front of the car, which could be directed exactly where you need air. I feel cooler already.

Facebook

Headphones for AR glasses

Facebook's patent revolves around a double-headphone system for AR glasses, relying on traditional earbuds mixed with bone-conduction headphones. But perhaps the most interesting part about this is that Facebook is exploring how its Oculus technology would work in glasses, rather than in a clunky VR headset.

Microsoft

Using your phone in VR

Most VR inputs are wands with triggers on them. That's great for shooting things or chopping people down in VR worlds, but there's a lot of things you probably want to do that don't involve guns or swords. Microsoft is looking into ways to incorporate your cell phone as an input device that you can see in VR. That would allow you to type far easier, and do things like paint VR, if that's what you're into:

Climate

The West’s drought could bring about a data center reckoning

When it comes to water use, data centers are the tech industry’s secret water hogs — and they could soon come under increased scrutiny.

Lake Mead, North America's largest artificial reservoir, has dropped to about 1,052 feet above sea level, the lowest it's been since being filled in 1937.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The West is parched, and getting more so by the day. Lake Mead — the country’s largest reservoir — is nearing “dead pool” levels, meaning it may soon be too low to flow downstream. The entirety of the Four Corners plus California is mired in megadrought.

Amid this desiccation, hundreds of the country’s data centers use vast amounts of water to hum along. Dozens cluster around major metro centers, including those with mandatory or voluntary water restrictions in place to curtail residential and agricultural use.

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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).

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.

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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.
Workplace

Indeed is hiring 4,000 workers despite industry layoffs

Indeed’s new CPO, Priscilla Koranteng, spoke to Protocol about her first 100 days in the role and the changing nature of HR.

"[Y]ou are serving the people. And everything that's happening around us in the world is … impacting their professional lives."

Image: Protocol

Priscilla Koranteng's plans are ambitious. Koranteng, who was appointed chief people officer of Indeed in June, has already enhanced the company’s abortion travel policies and reinforced its goal to hire 4,000 people in 2022.

She’s joined the HR tech company in a time when many other tech companies are enacting layoffs and cutbacks, but said she sees this precarious time as an opportunity for growth companies to really get ahead. Koranteng, who comes from an HR and diversity VP role at Kellogg, is working on embedding her hybrid set of expertise in her new role at Indeed.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Climate

New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

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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).

Entertainment

Watch 'Stranger Things,' play Neon White and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Here are our picks for your long weekend.

Image: Annapurna Interactive; Wizard of the Coast; Netflix

Kick off your long weekend with an extra-long two-part “Stranger Things” finale; a deep dive into the deckbuilding games like Magic: The Gathering; and Neon White, which mashes up several genres, including a dating sim.

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Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

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