Facebook wants to be like Snapchat

Facebook is looking to make posts disappear, Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, and more patents from Big Tech.

Facebook wants to be like Snapchat

Facebook has ephemeral posts on its mind.

Image: Protocol

Welcome to another week of Big Tech patents. Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, Amazon wants to make voice assistants more intelligent, Microsoft wants to make scheduling meetings more convenient, and a ton more.

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


More-accurate traffic reports

Traffic in the Bay Area was mostly nonexistent throughout the pandemic, as most of Silicon Valley stayed home. But now that offices are opening back up, people are starting to hit the road, and it's only a matter of time before traffic jams will make driving anywhere a nightmare again.

One way to beat traffic, or at least know what's coming, is by using the traffic overlay in Google Maps. It uses the speed of cars on the road to determine whether traffic is heavy or light. But sometimes that can be misleading, because the map doesn't usually take into account different lanes, like high-occupancy lanes, so the traffic doesn't fully represent what's going on. This patent aims to make traffic predictions more accurate, using various methods: One could be measuring traffic at different points on the road; another method might be integrating traffic speeds both in regular lanes as well as express lanes. By incorporating all of the available data and not just the average speed of all the cars, the traffic information will be that much more useful — and maybe getting to work on time won't be an impossible feat.

Improved contactless payments

Contactless POS terminals use NFC technology to accept payments. That's where you wave your phone near the screen and you complete the transaction without having to touch anything. But those terminals don't take into account anything extra, such as loyalty cards or special offers.

This patent imagines upgrading the POS so it can include not just payment information, but additional information regarding the transaction. For example, a customer taps the POS once to pay and then again for it to retrieve any loyalty points, without having to touch the POS at any point. That's great news for people (like me) who never want to touch anything again that hasn't been doused in some sort of bleach solution.

Using visual cues with an automated assistant

Speaking of contactless, one of the best and easiest ways to be hands-free is with a voice assistant, which usually just needs a wake word and a command to then perform said command. But what if your voice assistant could respond to hand gestures, too? This patent lays out a way for the voice assistant to not only respond to new hand gestures, such as a thumbs-up that acts as an "affirmative" response, but also how it can avoid false responses, say, from a nearby TV where a character also happens to give a thumbs-up. That way you can feel confident about waving around at your Google Hub without worrying that some background character is saying "yes" to the $300 worth of pizza you just tried to order.


A more intelligent voice assistant

As I've written here many times, I love how voice assistants make my life easier; I have one in every room of the house. Granted, I usually use them to turn off lights, turn on sound machines, play music, or tell me what the weather is. This patent is looking to make voice assistants even more useful by triggering different notifications for various events. You could tell it something that doesn't have an end date, such as, "Tell me when I receive an email from David," in which case the assistant will notify you when David sends you that email, whenever it may be. Or you could ask it to tell you when the 49ers game starts, and it will alert you at the specific time and date. I'm all for never having to think for myself again, and it looks like we're one step closer to getting there.


Teleportation! (In VR)

Apple working on a VR headset has ruled the rumorverse for a long time — maybe even as long as the rumored Apple Car. But this patent might bring the company one step closer to making the rumor reality. Well, virtual reality, in this case.

Moving from location to location in virtual reality isn't always easy. You usually have to X out of the app, which disrupts the feeling of being inside the action. But this patent imagines a way of making it more seamless. Rather than signing out of the app or game, the different location can be overlaid onto the spot you're currently at. For example, if you're in a house, a little screen will pop up showing you what's outside of the house, and you can then choose to go there. Or if you want to go to a completely different location, using the same overlay, you could choose to get out of the house entirely. If only this existed in the real world.


Ephemeral Facebook posts? Sign me up!

A big complaint about the internet — and social media specifically — is that things you post can come back to haunt you. Unless you specifically delete them after a set amount of time. But what if the network could automatically delete it for you after a certain threshold? That's what this patent explores: A way for the platform to delete your post, much like Snapchat. That way you don't have to worry about that 3 a.m. drunk post too much — as long as you remember to set it to disappear.


Intelligent meetings

Offices are great: You have a place to go to work, sometimes you get lunch and you get to collaborate with colleagues in person. But now as offices are (slowly) opening back up, it's imperative to remember some of the downsides of an office — namely, fighting over conference room space.

This patent aims to make that a little easier by assigning conference rooms that are the appropriate size. If your meeting has only four people in it, there's no need for a 10-person conference room. The system would assign appropriately, and even take into consideration the event that someone drops out of the meeting.

And to make scheduling meetings even more helpful, this patent imagines a way to look at everyone's calendar events and parse out the most relevant information. Using a proximity score, the system would schedule or reschedule meetings, based on everyone's availability.


Beat Saber, Bored Apes and more: What to do this weekend

Don't know what to do this weekend? We've got you covered.

Images: Ross Belot/Flickr; IGBD; BAYC

This week we’re listening to “Harvest Moon” on repeat; burning some calories playing Beat Saber; and learning all about the artist behind the goofy ape pics that everyone (including Gwyneth Paltrow?) is talking about.

Neil Young: Off Spotify? No problem.

Neil Young removed his music from Spotify this week, but countless recordings are still available on YouTube, including this 1971 video of him performing “Heart of Gold” in front of a live studio audience, complete with some charming impromptu banter. And while you’re there, scroll down and read a few of the top-rated comments. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

'Archive 81': Not based on a book, but on a podcast!

Netflix’s latest hit show is a supernatural mystery horror mini-series, and I have to admit that I was on the fence about it many times, in part because the plot just often didn’t add up. But then the main character, Dan the film buff and archivist, would put on his gloves, get in the zone, and meticulously restore a severely damaged, decades old video tape, and proceed to look for some meaning beyond the images. That ritual, and the sentiment that we produce, consume and collect media for something more than meets the eye, ultimately saved the show, despite some shortcomings.

'Secrets of Sulphur Springs': Season 2 is out now

If you’re looking for a mystery that's a little more family-friendly, give this show about a haunted hotel, time travel, and kids growing up in a world that their parents don’t fully understand a try. Season 2 dropped on Disney+ this month, and it not only includes a lot more time travel mysteries, but even uses the show’s time machine to tackle subjects as serious as reparations.

The artist behind those Bored Apes

Remember how NFTs are supposed to generate royalties with every resale, and thus support artists better than any of their existing revenue streams? Seneca, the artist who was instrumental in creating those iconic apes for the Bored Ape Yacht Club, wasn’t able to share details about her compensation in this Rolling Stone profile, but it sure sounds like she is not getting her fair share.

Beat Saber: Update incoming

Years later, Beat Saber remains my favorite VR game, which is why I was very excited to see a teaser video for cascading blocks, which could be arriving any day now. Time to bust out the Quest for some practice time this weekend!

Correction: Story has been updated to correct the spelling of Gwyneth Paltrow's name. This story was updated Jan. 28, 2022.

Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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