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It was a bit of a fallow week this week for patents from Big Tech. Perhaps everyone was distracted by … literally all the other tech news happening this week. Nonetheless, there were a few zany ones in the mix, including a blood pressure wearable from Apple, a mirrored camera from Facebook, and a ticket-watching service from Amazon. Not that you're likely to need a ticket to anything anytime soon.
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.
If you're too lazy to reply to every message you get from distant friends and acquaintances, this new patent from Google might be of some use. It outlines a system that can understand what's in photos or messages sent to someone and generate a response based off of the content. The only example given in the patent art is a user being sent a picture of the Eiffel Tower, to which the system decides to reply, "I am no architect, but the Eiffel tower seems like quite a construction!" If that's the level of quality of response to be expected from this, definitely don't use it on anyone you care about.
Not exactly the first thing that would've sprung to mind as something Alphabet would hold a patent on, but its Verily life-sciences company now has a patent for a method of mechanically separating insects. The patent says that the "reasons for separating insects are various," but doesn't list what they are. Why ever you might want to separate male and female or old and young insects, Alphabet is here for you.
If you don't have a problem with Amazon having a detailed scan of the topography of your body, and you hate shopping for clothes, then this might be the thing for you. The company has a new patent for a process that scans your body, keeps that information on file, along with purchases you've made in the past, and uses that information to find clothes online that would fit you and go with the clothes you already own. No more dragging a friend to the store to see if clothes look good on you — now you can have AI do it for you.
It's a drag to miss out on concerts by bands you love because you don't have the time to sit in a virtual queue or you just didn't know they were coming to town. Amazon seems to have an idea to make the ticket-buying process a little easier. Through the system it envisions, you would indicate that you're a fan of a certain artist, how many tickets you'd generally like to buy, where you'd like to sit, and how much you'd like to pay. It could even do parts of this through checking purchase and music-streaming histories. The system would then alert you when tickets to that band are on sale so you can jump on them, rather than having to wait all day at the computer to get them. I can't wait til Joe Songbird is next in town.
Apple announced its latest Apple Watch this week, and it comes with a new blood-oxygen sensor onboard. While that might be useful if you have chronic lung issues (or, you know, COVID), most people probably aren't going to want to know that all the time. Many more people, however, probably do want to know if their blood pressure is trending in the wrong direction. This is a tougher challenge to solve, given the amount of pressure the cuff needs to work. The patent suggests using several sensors instead of a single cuff to measure how long it takes for blood to move around the wearer's body.
Apple prides itself on the accessibility functions of its products, especially the iPhone. Apparently it's looking to take things a step further with the Apple Watch. A new patent this week outlines a band for the wearable replete with tiny motors all over it that could raise or lower the surface area around them, creating something that would allow tactile messages in Braille to be formed. This seems like it'd be a bit of a power drain for the watch, but probably well worth the tradeoff for anyone with vision impairments.
Some people have had qualms with the most powerful social network in the world making webcam devices like the Portal, but others are fans. And that's probably why Facebook is exploring designing another camera device that features a mirrored front. It would let you line up perfect selfies without needing the device to have its own screen or be linked up to another device. Given how much remote work is likely to still be a big part of many people's lives for a while longer, this seems like a pretty smart idea — if you don't mind it coming from Facebook.
VR often needs a system that has to be set up to figure out the boundaries of where you can move in your room so that you don't accidentally walk into a wall. Microsoft's patent suggests using objects in the room you're in to anchor your experience. That could be something on the floor, a window or even your bed. Being able to dynamically anchor the experience like this would make it simple to use your VR headset in multiple different locations without having to go through a complicated setup process as well.
Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.