Power

Facebook wants to make thought-hearing glasses

Plus smart glasses from Google, transforming drones, AR clothing and other patents from Big Tech.

Facebook wants to make thought-hearing glasses

It's the weekend! Time to switch my digital avatar's outfit from a suit to lounge pants. I don't actually live in VR yet (though I did try working in it this week), but a new patent from Amazon might make that a reality sooner rather than later. The company's also working on drones that could get deliveries to me even quicker than its other drones, and Facebook is working on making immersive videos work on any screen in my house. Who needs to go outside when I can bring the entire world to my couch? Big Tech's patents this week seem very on board with me staying at home as long as I want to.

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

More comfortable VR

Most VR headsets either rely on a smartphone or a built-in screen to display content. That pretty much limits every headset design to some variation of "a big set of goggles with a large flat area at the end." Google's new patent explores how a display that doesn't conform to a rigid single shape might look, and as the patent suggests, "this may be particularly useful for AR and VR headsets where space for optical systems is limited." The future of virtual reality — which may be coming to an office near you soon — might look a little less like ski goggles.


Mapping the trip home, too

This would be a supremely useful update to Google Maps. If you've ever searched for directions and set off on your trip without also looking at the traffic conditions for the way back, you've probably gotten stuck in some unexpected traffic jam before. The update suggested in this patent would show you how long the return leg of your trip would be, to more accurately reflect your entire journey. This probably would've been more useful back in the days before lockdown, when we all actually went outside to do things, but still.

Amazon

Transforming drones

If you thought a V-22 Osprey looks cool when it transforms between vertical and horizontal flight, this might be the drone for you. Amazon has a patent for a new delivery drone that can take off in a box-like shape, then fold out into something that looks closer to a traditional airplane while flying, and box back up again when hovering to land. It's a way to get the best of both modes of flight — landing in tight spaces using the hovering method and flying longer distances quicker using the plane shape — that could help it get Prime deliveries to customers quicker. Amazon is truly playing catch-up on deliveries in its home country, so hopefully this has moved well beyond conceptual planning — and signs suggest that it has.

Using AR to get clothes that fit

It's extremely annoying when you buy clothes online and they don't fit, but what else are you going to do? Go to a store and try things on? Not anymore, that's for sure. What if you had cameras to scan your physiology and figure out exactly what clothes would fit you before you bought them? And what if Amazon had that data? If that sounds appealing to you, the company's new patent might be of interest: It explores using digital avatars based on your proportions to create super-accurate virtual fitting rooms. It might make it easier to see how you look in this season's hottest fits, but are you going to want to send that footage of you in your underwear to Amazon to make it work?

Collectible AR creatures

Gotta catch 'em all. Amazon's patent outlines a system for offering digital collectibles along with physical purchases. Say you bought a new Pokémon game, and on the inside of the packaging there was a QR code that would unlock a digital version of Pikachu that you could interact with in AR — the more you buy, the more AR friends you could amass. And given how kids are, I could see this becoming a trend like Tamagotchi. (Kids still play with those, right?) Hopefully whoever ends up designing the final creatures for this comes up with something less terrifying than this hairless mole thing in the patent art:

Apple

A simple charging station for electric vehicles

Charging isn't the hardest part of owning an EV, but remembering to juice the thing is pretty key to using one, and Apple's new patent wants to remove that step from the process. Its new patent is for a connector plate that would sit on the back or front of a vehicle and match up with a corresponding plate in your garage. Much like the tennis ball hanging from the ceiling of yesteryear, the plate would be a guide for you to know when you've backed your car in enough to your parking spot, and the vehicle would sit charging until you next needed it. Hopefully Apple, the company known for its extremely considered designs, has put more thought into the actual car it may be building than the patent art suggests:

A more useful iPad case

The Magic Keyboard case for the new iPad Pro only came out about a month ago, but it seems the company is looking for ways to improve it already. The current model features a hinge and magnets that hold the iPad in a floating position above the keyboard, and hidden in the hinge is a USB-C charging port. The model envisioned in this new patent, however, replaces that port with a slot to dock and charge your Apple Pencil. This would be a great addition to the case that I would definitely use — if I had any idea where my Apple Pencil had gone.

Facebook

Controlling 360 videos on TV with your phone

You've been able to share 360-degree videos on Facebook for a while, but as cool as they can be, it's hard to capture the immersive majesty of "Planet Earth" on a 4-inch screen. This new patent would allow you to toss an image from your News Feed onto a bigger display, like a TV screen, while being able to rotate and navigate around the image by tilting your phone. It's a simple workaround that might make these sorts of videos more enjoyable — at least until Facebook convinces us all to buy Oculus headsets.

Thought-hearing glasses

This may sound like science fiction, but it's a technology that researchers at MIT have been working on for years. It involves using sensors to "hear" the words you say in your head — in the same way you "say" words when reading quietly to yourself — and turning that information into computer-readable data. If it works, it could actually make voice assistants not awkward to use in person, as you're not speaking out loud into the void. Facebook, which is exploring the world of brain-computer interfaces more broadly, appears to be looking into this field. Its patent suggests including sensors to capture these subvocalizations into a pair of smart glasses, conveniently designed like a pair of Oakleys from the mid-'80s:

Microsoft

Overeager virtual assistants

When I first scanned this patent, I felt like I was reading script drafts from an early version of "Her." The patent outlines a virtual assistant that can proactively reach out to its user and ask about setting up plans — but the way they're phrased in the screenshots included really makes it sound like they're asking for a date. In reality, it's just Cortana being a third wheel on other people's dates, scanning conversations for pertinent search terms and showing related information. For example, if someone asks if you want to go see a movie tonight, you could press the Cortana button to find out what's playing. Assuming you used Cortana. Which you don't.

Enterprise

Why software releases should be quick but 'palatable and realistic'

Modern software developers release updates much more quickly than in the past, which is great for security and adding new capabilities. But Edith Harbaugh thinks business leaders need a little control of that schedule.

LaunchDarkly was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle.

Photo: LaunchDarkly

Gone are the days of quarterly or monthly software update release cycles; today’s software development organizations release updates and fixes on a much more frequent basis. Edith Harbaugh just wants to give business leaders a modicum of control over the process.

The CEO of LaunchDarkly, which was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle, is trying to reach customers who want to move fast but understand that moving fast and breaking things won’t work for them. Companies that specialize in continuous integration and continuous delivery services have thrived over the last few years as customers look for help shipping at speed, and LaunchDarkly extends those capabilities to smaller features of existing software.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

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Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.
Workplace

Building an antiracist company: From idea to practice

Twilio’s chief diversity, inclusion and belonging officer says it’s time for a new approach to DEI.

“The most impactful way to prioritize DEI and enable antiracism is to structure your company accordingly,” says Twilio’s head of DEI Lybra Clemons.

Photo: Twilio

Lybra Clemons is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives at Twilio.

I’ve been in the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion space for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen the field evolve slowly from a “nice-to-have” function of Human Resources to a rising company-wide priority. June 2020 was different. Suddenly my and my peers’ phones started ringing off the hook and DEI leaders became the most sought-after professionals. With so many DEI roles being created and corporate willingness to invest, for a split second it looked like there might be real change on the horizon.

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Lybra Clemons
Lybra S. Clemons is a seasoned C-suite executive with over 15 years of Human Resources, Talent and Diversity & Inclusion experience at Fortune 500 companies. She is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives across Twilio's global workforce. Prior to Twilio, Lybra was global head of Diversity & Inclusion at PayPal, where she managed and oversaw all global diversity initiatives. Lybra has held critical roles in Diversity & Inclusion with Morgan Stanley, The Brunswick Group and American Express. She serves on the board of directors of Makers and How Women Lead Silicon Valley Executive Board of Advisers, and has been recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the Top Corporate Women in Diversity.
Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. 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.

China

Why China is outselling the US in EVs 5 to 1

Electric cars made up 14.8% of Chinese car sales in 2021, compared with 4.1% in the U.S.

Passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% to nearly 3.3 million from a year ago.

Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

When Tesla entered China in 2014, the country’s EV market was going through a reset. The Austin, Texas-based automaker created a catfish effect — a strong competitor that compels weaker peers to up their game — in China’s EV market for the past few years. Now, Tesla’s sardine-sized Chinese competitors have grown into big fishes in the tank, gradually weakening Tesla’s own prominence in the field.

2021 was a banner year for China’s EV industry. The latest data from the China Passenger Car Association shows that total passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% from a year ago to nearly 2.99 million: about half of all EVs sold globally. Out of every 100 passenger cars sold in China last year, almost 15 were so-called "new energy vehicles" (NEVs) — a mix of battery-electric vehicles and hybrids.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu covers China's tech industry.

SKOREA-ENTERTAINMENT-GAMING-MICROSOFT-XBOX
A visitor plays a game using Microsoft's Xbox controller at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Nick Statt joins the show to discuss Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and what it means for the tech and game industries. Then, Issie Lapowsky talks about a big week in antitrust reform, and whether real progress is being made in the U.S. Finally, Hirsh Chitkara explains why AT&T, Verizon, the FAA and airlines have been fighting for months about 5G coverage.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. 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.

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