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.

Policy

Musk’s texts reveal what tech’s most powerful people really want

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. 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.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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