Power

Apple has an idea for wearables made entirely out of fabric

Plus smart syringes, connected T-shirts, nanoparticle-detecting wearables, and other patents from Big Tech.

Apple's patent for fabric wearables

Apple seems to be exploring other, less fragile ways of building wearables.

Image: USPTO

It feels like I've been doing these weekly patent roundups for an eternity now, but that's mainly because the pandemic has completely destroyed my concept of time. But regardless, every so often, a week comes along that shows how many amazing (and sometimes plain crazy) ideas these companies are working on. We have smart syringes and wearables that can detect magnetic particles in your bloodstream from Alphabet, T-shirts that can show texts from Microsoft, and smart floors from Amazon. What a time to be alive.

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

Smart syringes

So many things terrify me about going to the doctor, but relatively high up on that list is a technician inadvertently injecting me with air instead of a vaccine, leading to an embolism and my death. I just try not to think about it, but Verily is apparently trying to do something about it with this patent for smart syringes. They would be able to detect and ping a health care worker's device if a syringe wasn't primed with an "air shot," which is used to get bubbles out of the fluid in the syringe. I would very much be a fan of this technology seeing the light of day.

Medical wearables

Wearables are quickly moving step-tracking devices to products that can potentially diagnose life-threatening illnesses, and it seems Verily's concept for a medical wearable is just that. Verily already has a watch that it offers to collect research data for its projects, but this is seemingly a step beyond that. The patent even suggests introducing "magnetic nanoparticles" into the wearer's body that the wearable would be able to sense and use to derive "clinically relevant" information, like whether someone is at an increased risk of a stroke or gangrene.

Amazon

Smart floors

Everything in the house is getting smart — but what about your floors? Amazon's new patent outlines a way of letting people into facilities without access gates, where smart tiles on the floor and connected devices on the user could talk to each other to determine whether that person has the right credentials. In one example in the patent, the floor tile would actually connect directly to the smart device by using the person's body as a circuit to connect the two. Hopefully the voltage wouldn't need to be very high.

Building drones out of shape memory materials

I always thought it was extremely cool that "The Dark Knight's" Batman had a cape that could turn into a rigid wing with a small electric charge. It seems that Amazon is trying to turn the Caped Crusader's sci-fi concept into something useful: Its patent describes using shape memory materials in the actuators on drone propellers to allow the drone to fly in different ways. It could also make the drone less prone to failures, as there would be fewer moving parts needed. It's not quite as impressive as taking down foes in Gotham City, but it might help packages get to you a little quicker.

Apple

Time to learn a new word

This isn't one of Apple's most revolutionary patents — it's for the design of the way it wraps its charging cables — but it taught me a new word, so I thought you might want to know it, too. Apparently when you loop up a cord, that's called hanking, and that's all this patent is for, a "hanked cable." Apparently the word comes from the old Norse hǫnk, which would be way better to say, in my opinion.

Fabric wearables

The Apple Watch is great, until you trip and smack the glass face into a door jamb or the battery swells up and explodes the face. Apple seems to be exploring other, less fragile ways of building wearables. It won a patent this week for an entirely fabric wearable that could have lights embedded to display information. It could also be used to tether another device to your hand, the patent suggests, which would probably be helpful if iPhones keep getting bigger. Apple also won a patent for fabric sensors, which could help it embed some of the Watch's existing tech into a more flexible device in the future.

Facebook

Tracking you on other social networks

Given that Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp, it wouldn't be wildly surprising to learn that it could connect your disparate profiles together to get a more complete picture of who you are. But what about sites it doesn't own? This patent outlines a tracking system that could determine, based on the information that Facebook already has on you, whether you have profiles on other social or shopping sites. It could compare your profile photos, as well as demographic information it has, to link them together. You abandoned your cart on Target or posted a photo of flowers on Flickr? Prepare yourself for an ad on Facebook for a flowery dress from Target!

Scraping other sites for information

In a similarly themed patent this week, Facebook also outlined a technical model for scraping information off of a webpage and onto its sites. This could be to advertise directly to you when a company adds a new product that it thinks might appeal to you. And personally, I can't wait to buy Coat House's Iridescent Stadium Jacket from Big Company.

Microsoft

Shirts that say how you feel

Have you ever wished you could express yourself with the clothes you wear? I don't mean vibrant colors or crazy fashions, but literally communicating how you feel. Apparently that's something Microsoft is exploring. This patent is for a textile with LEDs and fiber-optics woven in that can be controlled to display text or images. Who needs Facebook status updates when you can just wear your heart emoji on your sleeve?

Calorie-counting the food you buy

Have you ever wished Siri could shame you into eating better? Probably not, but this new idea from Microsoft could maybe help you eat a bit better. The patent suggests a system that ties into a virtual assistant, which would have nutritional info from food vendors as well as access to your purchase history. Whenever you bought something, the assistant would be able to tell you how many calories you've consumed, and whether that aligns with health goals you've set, like losing weight, and any health issues you have. It could also recommend suggestions for healthier food from restaurants you go to, but chances are, if you ordered a breakfast burrito, you made a very conscious choice not to have something healthy like oatmeal for breakfast, so I'm not sure how persuasive an assistant is likely to be in this situation.

Fintech

Gavin Newsom shows crypto some California love

“A more flexible approach is needed,” Gov. Newsom said in rejecting a bill that would require crypto companies to get a state license.

Strong bipartisan support wasn’t enough to convince Newsom that requiring crypto companies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is the smart path for California.

Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

The Digital Financial Assets Law seemed like a legislative slam dunk in California for critics of the crypto industry.

But strong bipartisan support — it passed 71-0 in the state assembly and 31-6 in the Senate — wasn’t enough to convince Gov. Gavin Newsom that requiring crypto companies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is the smart path for California.

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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.

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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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Workplace

Slack’s rallying cry at Dreamforce: No more meetings

It’s not all cartoon bears and therapy pigs — work conferences are a good place to talk about the future of work.

“We want people to be able to work in whatever way works for them with flexible schedules, in meetings and out of meetings,” Slack chief product officer Tamar Yehoshua told Protocol at Dreamforce 2022.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dreamforce is primarily Salesforce’s show. But Slack wasn’t to be left out, especially as the primary connector between Salesforce and the mainstream working world.

The average knowledge worker spends more time using a communication tool like Slack than a CRM like Salesforce, positioning it as the best Salesforce product to concern itself with the future of work. In between meeting a therapy pig and meditating by the Dreamforce waterfall, Protocol sat down with several Slack execs and conference-goers to chat about the shifting future.

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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.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

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Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Policy

SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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