Power

Apple wants to connect your shirts and rugs to the internet

Plus blockchain-based supply chains, robot shelves, Amazon puzzles and other patents from Big Tech.

Apple wants to connect your shirts and rugs to the internet

Who needs a watch when you have a sleeve?

Image: Apple/USPTO

Happy Sunday! Grab some coffee, take a load off and enjoy the day with some patents from Big Tech.

This week saw a pretty wide range of ideas from the big companies in the U.S., but many of them seem to be focused on using digital assistants to make life a bit easier. Microsoft wants to help you remember where you put your keys; Google wants to remind you of how much you're spending on lunch; and Apple wants you to know if you've cracked your windshield. All things that could take a little load off of your mind.

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

Getting insight out of your images

How hard is it to keep track of how much you've spent or where you've been in a given week? Considering I can't remember what I even had for breakfast yesterday, I'd say it can be quite hard. People are increasingly taking snaps of everything in their lives, and Google is interested in actually pulling key information out of those photos.

In this patent, you ask a virtual assistant how much you've spent over the week, and the assistant could pull photos of all the receipts you took that week, read the totals of all of them, and add them together. That could be super useful for people who have to do a lot of expenses, or are just extremely forgetful, like me.

Baby monitor

This isn't really new but an interesting ownership discovery. Last year, Verily partnered with Pampers to create a suite of baby-monitoring products, including a connected camera. In the release at the time, Verily said it designed the sensor and software technology stack, but it seems it also holds the actual design patent for the camera.

Amazon

Expandable robot-controlled shelves

Amazon has built some of the most complex product-storage and fulfillment warehouses in the world, but they generally take up a ton of space, existing in massive footprints in areas where land is cheap. But that isn't always the most effective way to get products to consumers in densely populated areas. Micro-fulfillment setups, often involving complex conveyor belts and robots, have started to take off recently, and it seems that Amazon is looking to join in the trend.

This patent outlines an expandable conveyor-belt storage system that can use robots to sort and pack their moving shelves. It could be a way for the company to get products closer to the people it's delivering to, in smaller spaces than it's usually occupied.

Solving puzzles to get discounts

Would you be more willing to buy something if you got a discount on it for solving a puzzle? That seems to be something Amazon is exploring in its latest patent. It outlines a function on a shopping site, or through voice assistants and texts, where you could win a percentage off the cost of an item you're searching for by solving a puzzle about the item or the store. It could be something like what shoes a celebrity is wearing in a photo, or what was the last thing you bought off the site. The idea would be to drive further loyalty to the company and, of course, sell some more stuff.

Apple

Detecting cracked windshields

It's super dangerous to drive around with a cracked windshield, but sometimes tiny cracks are difficult to notice. Apple's new patent — for a vehicle it's definitely maybe probably not potentially for sure working on — wants to fix that. A system built into the windshields and other windows on a car would be able to take electrical measurements of the surface of the glass to spot any deficiencies and then alert the driver to get it fixed. I wonder if Apple cars would also be made out of glass that definitely needs a protective case on it at all times to keep them safe.

Connected clothing and fabrics

Have you ever wished the inanimate objects around your home were more interactive? Apparently Apple has. The company's new patent outlines a way of adding electrical sensors to woven fabrics, allowing you to use them to control a computer. In some examples in the patent, the applications sound pretty familiar to Google's Jacquard project, although the patent suggests also being able to do things like use the connected fabric to control your computer's cursor, rather than just control the music on your phone.

But other implementations suggest adding the tech into "a cloth, rug, tapestry, upholstery or other fabric-based article"; I could see a future Apple rug that knows to turn on the lights when someone steps on it for the first time that day, or a couch with a dimmer switch built in. It's a brave new world where our furniture may one day need system updates.

Facebook

Turning pictures into stories

If you've ever uploaded a bunch of photos to Facebook from a holiday, you've probably left it up to your followers to figure out what you actually did on vacation, rather than write a description for your whole trip. No one has time for that. But a new patent from Facebook wants to help you out, with a system that could create a narrative out of the shots you upload. Conversely, it could also help select photos, based on your tastes (from what you've liked and shared on the social network), for a post that you've drafted. Perhaps it won't be long until all our creativity is outsourced to algorithms.

Microsoft

Voice assistants remembering things you've forgotten

We love to say that voice assistants are always listening to us, but sometimes that can actually be pretty useful. Microsoft's patent suggests using voice assistants' always-on function to track things around your house that you might've forgotten. How many times have you misplaced your keys or forgotten whether you locked the front door? Microsoft suggests training an algorithm on the sounds of common household objects and events — like dropping the keys on the counter or locking a door — and then using those sounds' proximity to smart speakers to log them as events, which a user could then ask about. Alexa may soon be able to tell you where you last left your keys, or Google could tell you whether you left the oven on, solving some of the anxieties everyone tends to face in daily life.

Blockchain-based IoT devices for supply chains

This is one of the rare enterprise uses of blockchain technology that sounds promising. Microsoft's patent envisions IoT devices to track products' movements along a supply chain and ensure they're meeting the standards agreed upon by the companies involved. The patent lays out the example of an IoT device that's loaded with an immutable smart contract agreed upon by the shipper and the customer that states the shipper's freezer container can't get warmer than a certain temperature. The second the temperature threshold is breached, the contract is breached, alerting everyone involved. This would ensure that produce being shipped is actually being done so safely — and that all the chicken I buy (which is a lot) won't kill me.

Turning a regular pen into a digital one

If you've ever used a computer stylus, you've probably noticed that it can't really replicate the feeling of actually drawing on paper with a pen. Microsoft's new patent doesn't want to: Instead of trying to replicate it, it suggests adding a digital element to a physical pen, using a connected cartridge that could be inserted into a regular pen. You'd be able to write or draw like normal, but have what you're doing be captured digitally. It's the best of both worlds.

Enterprise

Why CrowdStrike wants to be a broader enterprise IT player

The company, which grew from $1 billion in annual recurring revenue to $2 billion in just 18 months, is expanding deeper within the cybersecurity market and into the wider IT space as well.

CrowdStrike is well positioned at a time when CISOs are fed up with going to dozens of different vendors to meet their security needs.

Image: Protocol

CrowdStrike is finding massive traction in areas outside its core endpoint security products, setting up the company to become a major player in other key security segments such as identity protection as well as in IT categories beyond cybersecurity.

Already one of the biggest names in cybersecurity for the past decade, CrowdStrike now aspires to become a more important player in areas within the wider IT landscape such as data observability and IT operations, CrowdStrike co-founder and CEO George Kurtz told Protocol in a recent interview.

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Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@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.”

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Election markets are far from a sure bet

Kalshi has big-name backing for its plan to offer futures contracts tied to election results. Will that win over a long-skeptical regulator?

Whether Kalshi’s election contracts could be considered gaming or whether they serve a true risk-hedging purpose is one of the top questions the CFTC is weighing in its review.

Photo illustration: Getty Images; Protocol

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The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has set Oct. 28 as a date by which it hopes to decide whether the New York-based startup Kalshi can offer a form of wagering up to $25,000 on which party will control the House of Representatives and Senate after the midterms. PredictIt, another online market for election trading, has also sued the regulator over its decision to cancel a no-action letter.

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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 Uber verdict shows why mandatory disclosure isn't such a bad idea

The conviction of Uber's former chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, seems likely to change some minds in the debate over proposed cyber incident reporting regulations.

Executives and boards will now be "a whole lot less likely to cover things up," said one information security veteran.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If nothing else, the guilty verdict delivered Wednesday in a case involving Uber's former security head will have this effect on how breaches are handled in the future: Executives and boards, according to information security veteran Michael Hamilton, will be "a whole lot less likely to cover things up."

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Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Climate

Delta and MIT are running flight tests to fix contrails

The research team and airline are running flight tests to determine if it’s possible to avoid the climate-warming effects of contrails.

Delta and MIT just announced a partnership to test how to mitigate persistent contrails.

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That may be changing.

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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.

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