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
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.
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.
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.
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.