Big Tech didn't disappoint this week, giving us tons of patents to sift through: Google wants to help out by making phone calls for me, Amazon imagines a way to help autonomous vehicles get around, Amazon wants to help e-readers not look bad, and could Apple finally be thinking of a touchscreen laptop?
As always, remember that 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.
Voice assistants and translation services do a pretty good job understanding people with typical speech. But they can sometimes struggle and provide less-accurate results for people who have atypical speech, for example people who have a lisp or a stutter. This patent wants to help in these situations, by scanning both the typical speech and atypical speech. One use case would be when two people are on the phone; the speech processor could transcribe what the person with atypical speech is saying, so that the other person can understand better.
I am an adult, and have been for a very long time. But there's nothing that makes me feel more like a whiny baby than having to make a phone call, regardless of whether it's to order a pizza or to my doctor. But this patent aims to help me directly by doing the calling for me.
It imagines a system that can not only call for you, but it can be programmed to not just call on the user's behalf, but also perform actions based on information gathered. Make a reservation? No problem. Call a car? The robot will handle it. Next I just need the robot to decide what food I'm in the mood for, and I'll never have to think for myself again. Bliss!
We're getting really close to a world filled with self-driving cars, and we're even closer to a world of autonomous delivery vehicles. But there are still quite a few things that need to be figured out. Like, what if there are no lines on the road for the vehicle to follow? What if it's in a dead zone and the GPS is spotty?
This patent is looking to help in those situations by using images to help determine where the vehicle is. Using installed sensors and cameras, it could take pictures — even 360-degree panoramic shots — of the environment, which could then be matched up with 2D maps of the area. That way the autonomous vehicle can traverse any terrain to get your delivery to your door without problems.
Reading a book on a Kindle is usually fine. You can adjust the font size, the screen brightness, and even read white words on a black background, if that makes your eyes feel better. But what a Kindle doesn't account for is various text configurations. That's because e-books often use layouts that have been predetermined from hard copies of books, and that layout might not work in an e-reader.
This patent examines various ways of flowing in the text so that it looks good. One way to do that is to take into account the display size as well as the formatting that the publisher and designer intended. That way the book can serve up the proper dimensions for the text, so nothing is cut off and the reading experience is a bit easier.
The lack of a touchscreen Mac in Apple's computer lineup has been a hot topic of debate, with some people saying it's a glaring omission and others predicting that Apple will never offer a touchscreen on the Mac.
But could it be? Could Apple finally be thinking about a touchscreen Mac? This patent is all about implementing a cursor when using your finger on a touchscreen. Using a cursor or some sort of pointing icon could help with accuracy, and therefore the experience of using a touchscreen, but because there would potentially be fewer taps, it could also help with battery life. This all sounds great for an iPhone or iPad, but the patent note that this type of technology could be used with other devices, too: "It should also be understood that, in some embodiments, the device is not a portable communications device, but is a desktop computer with a touch-sensitive surface (e.g., a touch screen display and/or a touchpad)." Let the rumors spreading begin!
Speaking of rumors, another one that's been floating around for a while is the inevitable Apple VR headset. And based on a slew of patent filings lately, it seems like it's also on Apple's mind. This patent lays out a way for selecting a text input field using just your eyes. Does that mean that there won't be a need for the handheld joysticks, like those that come with the Oculus Quest?
Facebook also has VR on its mind, with this patent that wants to help people who have astigmatism. By changing the voltage provided to a crystal lens, it can bend in a way that produces a clear image for the wearer, no matter how bad their vision is. That's great news for people like me who wear glasses and can't quite seem to get a comfy fit when putting on a VR headset.
Email platforms usually offer a limited number of options when it comes to displaying an email. You can view it in a thread or read it one by one; you can enable a preview pane to see what the message says without actually opening it.
This patent asks: Why not do it all? By incorporating both a list and a reading pane in one view, you could see several emails in the list at once. And if they're synchronized so that actions in the list affect what's happening in the reading pane, Microsoft thinks it can provide a more unified, easier way to read email.