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.

Theranos’ investor pitches go on trial

Prosecutors in the Elizabeth Holmes fraud case are now highlighting allegations the company sought to mislead investors.

The fresh details of unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Theranos trial continued this week with testimony from Daniel Edlin, a former product manager at the blood-testing startup, and Shane Weber, a scientist from Pfizer. Their testimonies appeared to bolster the government's argument that Holmes intentionally defrauded investors and patients.

The fresh details about audacious and unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporting fellow at Protocol, based out of Los Angeles. Previously, she worked for Ernst & Young, where she researched and wrote about the future of work, emerging technologies and startups. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where she studied business and philosophy. She can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Policy

8 takeaways from states’ new filing against Google

New details have been unsealed in the states' antitrust suit against Google for anticompetitive behavior in the ads market.

Google is facing complaints by government competition enforcers on several fronts.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Up to 22%: That's the fee Google charges publishers for sales on its online ad exchanges, according to newly unredacted details in a complaint by several state attorneys general.

The figure is just one of the many details that a court allowed the states to unveil Friday. Many had more or less remained secrets inside Google and the online publishing industry, even through prior legal complaints and eager public interest.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Workplace

This tech founder uses a converted Sprinter van as an office on wheels

The CEO of productivity startup Rock likes to work on the road. Here's how he does it — starting with three different WiFi hotspots.

Kenzo Fong, founder and CEO of the 20-person productivity software startup Rock, has been working out of his converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van since the pandemic began.

Photo: Kenzo Fong/Rock

Plenty of techies have started companies in garages. Try running a startup from a van.

In San Francisco, one software company founder has been using a converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van — picture an Amazon delivery vehicle — as a mobile office.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Policy

Most Americans want AI regulation — and they want it yesterday

In a poll, people said they wanted to see artificial intelligence technologies develop in the U.S. — alongside rules governing their use.

U.S. lawmakers have only just begun the long process of regulating the use of AI.

Photo: Louis Velazquez/Unsplash

Nearly two-thirds of Americans want the U.S to regulate the development and use of artificial intelligence in the next year or sooner — with half saying that regulation should have begun yesterday, according to a Morning Consult poll. Another 13% say that regulation should start in the next year.

"You can thread this together," Austin Carson, founder of new nonprofit group SeedAI and former government relations lead for Nvidia, said in an email. "Half or more Americans want to address all of these things, split pretty evenly along ideological lines."

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

ai
Latest Stories