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Google wants to connect everything you own to the internet

Surveilling older adults, connected helmets, wearables talking to doctors and other patents from Big Tech.

Google wants to connect everything you own to the internet

Make all the things smart!

Image: Google/USPTO

Hello and welcome back to the world of zany patents from Big Tech! While 2020 is still dragging on (I know it's 2021, but you can't tell me 2020 is over until I can go anywhere other than the grocery store), at least there are still great new patents to uncover. And there's some fascinating ones this week, including Facebook wanting to make clothes like real in games, Microsoft trying to make sports more inclusive and Google wanting to make it easier to spy on your parents. If that's something you want to do.

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

Surveilling older adults

People who have aging parents might find themselves checking in frequently to make sure Mom and Dad are OK, or even buying gadgets or products that make it a little easier to be self-sufficient. Google's solution, according to this patent, is a way to keep tabs on them remotely. Using smart sensors placed around the house, a system like Google Home could be set up to alert a third party about what's happening in the house. For example, the system can send an alert if it notices that nobody is moving around at specific times, and you can then decide whether to call or text to check in. Just be sure to ask your parents' permission first before you turn their home into a personal panopticon.

Making analog products digital

A few years ago, Google introduced Jacquard, its project for interweaving electronic sensors into fabrics. It's been used to add phone controls to denim jackets, bags and even shoes. It's a neat idea, but it requires you to buy new products that you might not actually want. With this patent, Google envisions bringing that same concept to any product you already own and making it smart. That could be things like touch sensors or tracking movement — perhaps you could just slap one of these on your parents instead of putting sensors all over their house.

Keeping your doctor in the loop

Alphabet's health research arm, Verily, is thinking about a future — which we might currently be living through — where people don't need to get to the doctor to be diagnosed. This patent envisions a wearable that can constantly track your heart (it's unclear how much of a drain this would be on a small wearable battery), and identify any potential issues by consulting databases online, like if your data suggests that you might be having an arrhythmia. While there's a few wearables on the market that can do something like this right now, this patent imagines automatically sharing that data with your doctor, presumably so they could review the data, or potentially algorithmically warn you and your doctor that an emergency situation is underway. Hopefully it doesn't call your doctor if you suck at golf, though.

Amazon

Autonomous avoiding

This one is conceptually quite straightforward, but important nonetheless when you're thinking about a phalanx of delivery drones flying around on their own. The patent outlines a laser range-finding system mounted on drone rotors that can help the drones "see" what's around them so they could shift their routes to avoid it. But for many in the drone industry, it's not really the tech that's holding back autonomous deliveries — it's humans.

Apple

Detecting traffic wardens

Rather like with autonomous delivery drones, it's good to know that Apple is thinking about what obstacles its autonomous vehicles might encounter. In this patent, it's specifically thinking about what to do when a car sees something that appears to be someone guiding traffic, and how to react to various hand signals they might make. This makes me think about a future where I could just carry a stop sign around with me and become the king of robot cars, directing them to follow my every whim.

Facebook

Simulating clothing

If you've ever played a video game where someone is wearing clothes (which is … most of them??), you've probably noticed that they don't exactly fall like the ones you wear IRL. I think my favorite example is uniforms in sports games; the systems usually recognize now that cloth stretches as people move, but then instead of just stretching the fabric, they'll stretch out the letters in players' names, making it look like the jerseys are made of elastic. Facebook's patent outlines a system that uses a machine learning-based "cloth simulator" to more realistically mimic how physics affects the wrinkles in simulated clothes. With Facebook's deep push into VR, this could be one of the things that helps the platform feel less like an awkward immersive video game and more like real life, represented in a headset.

Microsoft

An automatic travel diary

When I was growing up, my mom used to make me write a diary anytime we went on vacation. It was a noble endeavor, but amazingly, my child brain was more interested in actually being on vacation than writing about it later. Regardless of what that might have meant from my chosen career, my adult brain is still a fan of this idea. The patent suggests a system that can auto-generate a travel diary based on your calls, texts, photos, location and other data from your phone. You could then share your digital diary with anyone you might want to make jealous — though you should probably consider whether giving over that much data to a system like this is worth the hate-likes.

Bringing sports to visually-impaired people

If this could work, this could be a really neat way to make sports somewhat more inclusive. This patent envisions using sensors to help visually impaired people play sports. The example it gives includes something that looks a lot like an Xbox Kinect sensor built into a batting helmet. In the example, the helmet could provide a signal to the wearer that a pitch is incoming and it's time to swing. Alerts could be vibrations, sounds or other sensory flags. And although it might look odd to wear a batting helmet outside of the baseball diamond, the patent also envisions a system for other aspects of daily life, such as alerting the wearer when it's safe to cross the road.


Icebreakers on social media

If you've had to do any team-building exercises over Zoom during this pandemic, you've probably come across a few sessions of icebreaker questions. Maybe you've had to share what you'd take from your house in a fire, or what brands you unquestionably love. It's a sure-fire way to get people chatting. In this patent, Microsoft is envisioning bringing that energy into the rest of your life, whether on conversations you're having on social media, or even phone calls you're receiving. Pertinent information about friends, colleagues or new connections could be displayed next to their names on social media or when they're calling you, offering something to talk about other than work or the weather, like which marathons they've run or which '90s rock band they're still seeing live.

Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

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.

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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.

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.
Power

Cord cutting in 2020: Pay TV industry lost 5.5 million subscribers

Subscriber defections slowed toward the end of the year, but there's no end to cord cutting in sight.

The pay TV industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift.

Photo: Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

The five biggest pay TV providers lost a combined 5.5 million subscribers in 2020, narrowly staying below the 5.8 million subscribers the companies collectively lost in 2019. Subscriber losses slowed a bit toward the end of the year, but pandemic-related cutbacks still hit the industry hard — and may have led to hundreds of thousands additional cancellations if not for industry-wide billing relief efforts.

The industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift, with pay TV subscribers switching from traditional operators like Comcast and AT&T to tech companies like Google and Hulu and their respective pay TV services. However, a closer look at pay TV trends suggests that these gains may be temporary, as so-called skinny bundles fall out of favor with consumers once operators are forced to increase their price tags to make up for ever-increasing network licensing costs.

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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.

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.

Alphabet wants you to eat balloons instead of dieting

Guessing clothing size, AR car maps, wearable security and other patents from Big Tech.

Filling.

USPTO/Verily

It's the end of another long month week in lockdown, and if you're in the U.S., you're probably not going anywhere this weekend. So sit back and enjoy the latest zany patents from Big Tech, including headphones that allow you to have conversations in multiple languages, AI that can guess what size your clothes are, and AR that helps navigate while driving. And don't worry about getting a snack — Alphabet has an idea for that.

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.

Keep Reading Show less
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.

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