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Are new AirPods on the way from Apple?

VR wearables, simple health records, drones on trucks and other patents from Big Tech.

Are new AirPods on the way from Apple?
Image: Apple/USPTO

I don't know what single piece of news could possibly be at the top of your mind right now, but I'm very glad you decided to take a moment away to see what new things Big Tech won patents for this week.

It's been a very long week, but even with everything else going on, the patent officers over at the USPTO steadfastly carried out their jobs and awarded, as ever, some zany patents to the biggest companies in tech. Amazon is trying to land drones on trucks; Facebook wants to turn your wrist into a projector; Apple wants to turn your car into your office; and Microsoft just wants to make it a little easier to schedule meetings.

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

Satellite-based mesh network

If you've just put in your preorder for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, you're probably excited for your first 5G phone and how much faster it'll seem. But Google is thinking much bigger than just a faster cellular network; this patent outlines a global communication network that uses satellites and weather balloons to connect houses, boats, planes and everything else to a meshed communications network. It's like its sister company Loon, but on steroids.

Amazon

Landing drones on trucks

This sounds like something out of a spy B-movie, but it's a thing. UPS and Mercedes, among others, have been toying around with the idea of landing drones on trucks, in some cases to allow delivery vehicles to essentially be in two places at once as the drone flies off with a package in one direction while the driver goes off in another. And it seems Amazon is looking into a similar concept. It's not too much of a stretch to see its fleet of forthcoming electric vans pairing up with Amazon Prime Air at some point in the future.



Apple

New AirPods design?

Apple is usually extremely careful about holding designs for forthcoming products very close to its chest, but this is an interesting wrinkle in what the design of future AirPods might look like. Rumors have started swirling that the next versions of the Pro earbuds will have an even shorter stem on them, and this patent from Apple explores how a design like that might work. Essentially, the stemless buds would have a movable "anchor" that could lock the bud into place in your ear, so that it wouldn't fall out, even without the counterbalance of a stem. It's unlikely we'll see new AirPods until next year, but hopefully then we can all look back at this patent and say, "Yes, Mike, you were so right." First time for everything.

Measuring your eyeball spacing

If you've ever had to buy glasses online, you probably know what "interpupillary distance" measures — it's the length between your two eyes — because you need to know it to get a pair of glasses that fit just right. Apple doesn't sell glasses right now, but there's a lot of talk that it soon will. To make sure they fit right, Apple will need to measure that pupillary distance, which this patent suggests doing using the depth sensors on a smartphone … like those you find on every iPhone released over the last few years.

Bringing EHRs together

Apple has been diving into the world of health informatics since it launched HealthKit back in 2014, and it has been increasing its foothold in health tech ever since. Without explicitly saying it, there's a sense that Apple wants to take a big slice of health care industry revenue, and one of the biggest things it could do is make the process of accessing and editing electronic health records easier for health care providers and patients. The patent outlines the process for providers to add a new EHR system to Apple Health — and how a patient can access their information on the system and add it to their Health app and connect it with all their other health data. It's a process that's still in the works but could help bring the future of health to your wrist.

Combining VR with real-world objects

Another long-rumored product Apple has been working on is a car, and the company has won a few patents in a similar vein to this one, which explores how to mitigate carsickness and boredom in autonomous vehicles with VR headsets. But what's interesting about this is potential applications beyond the car: The patent outlines how VR headsets can be used to re-create real-world experiences, like a desktop computer or a home theater, virtually. Could this be what the future of working at home looks like?

Facebook

An AR projector wearable

This one feels particularly futuristic … or should I say "Futurama." Facebook's new patent toys with the idea of a wrist-worn wearable computer that could be used to interact with a VR or AR headset to project images into the wearer's field of view, and to track their movements in a virtual world. It could also work like a standalone wearable, if you were interested in having Facebook directly on your wrist. Interesting ideas aside, the patent's representation of what a person looks like from overhead is … something else. Generally, if you have to label the thing you're drawing to make it clear what you're talking about, you've probably done a poor job drawing it.



Status updates by location

What if everyone knew the second you went to the bar, or somewhere less savory, because your phone told all your Facebook friends? I'm not sure why exactly you'd want that — unless perhaps you're a child and your parents want to know your every move — but that's essentially what this patent outlines. I guess it could be pretty useful for those thirsty vacation status updates the second you land on your beach getaway, but otherwise it feels like something you wouldn't automatically want blasted to the world. Unless you're Steve Wozniak.

Microsoft

Automatic meeting scheduler

Finding time to schedule meetings that work for everyone involved is often annoying busy work, which is likely why we've had a few patents in these roundups over the month aiming to fix this. Microsoft's patent looks to find times that work for everyone that also tries to preserve periods for uninterrupted work during the day, because jumping between meetings and projects is a surefire way to ensure you get no work done. The best parts of this patent though are that in the art, the example person apparently writes in their own calendar "tennis w/ spouse," and their marketing team includes the Three Stooges:

App store laws, Microsoft AR and Square buys Tidal

Welcome to this weekend's Source Code podcast.

Cole Burston/Bloomberg

This week on the Source Code podcast: First, an update on Google's user-tracking change. Then, Ben Pimentel joins the show to discuss Square buying Tidal, and what it means for the fintech and music worlds. Later, Emily Birnbaum explains the bill moving through the Arizona legislature that has Google and Apple worried about the future of app stores. And finally, Janko Roettgers discusses Microsoft Mesh, the state of AR and VR headsets, and when we're all going to be doing meetings as holograms.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
People

Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

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.

Protocol | Policy

Far-right misinformation: Facebook's most engaging news

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. 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. Email Issie.
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