Power

Google wants to help you get a life

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

Google wants to help you get a life

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.

Alphabet

Making selfies look better

Perhaps even before our lives were dominated by video calls, you might've noticed when someone just couldn't figure out where to place their camera. Generally, anything below eye height is going to lead to some unflattering angles, but if you're also on a phone, holding your device up that long can get tiring. Google is apparently trying to solve this with AR: According to this patent, it's looking into using the depth sensors found on the front of many smartphones to re-create your face in video calls at a more flattering angle, to reduce what the pattern calls "the big nose effect." I'm here for this concept, but also Google's depiction of what it's trying to eliminate:

Jamming more ads into Maps

Google Maps has become increasingly beset with ads in recent years, with promoted pins and locations on various instances of Maps. But this patent, which determines how Google goes about valuing ads in Google Maps — it, shockingly, has a lot to do with location — shows that the company might be looking at turning every part of the world into a digital version of Times Square, by displaying ads in-between the streets on a map. Hopefully it doesn't feel the need to run ads in all these potential slots at once, as that might make it rather difficult to navigate:

Outsourcing having a life to AI

It's tough to do things, I know. Many days, even before the pandemic, I was content to just sit on the couch all day watching TV and ordering takeout. But Google is apparently looking into outsourcing to a virtual assistant the task of making sure you actually get your butt off the sofa. The patent outlines an assistant that could suggest things to do, as well as where and when to do them, based on the user's preferences. It could also suggest things to do that your friends or other users have enjoyed doing. Some of the suggestions aren't exactly things I'd consider a hobby, though: choosing "fight off a cold" as an activity is a really odd way to want to pass the time.

Amazon

Searching using loyalty programs

When you search for things online, you're generally only shown the prices for things that everyone sees. But if you're a member of a loyalty program, you might often get discounts or other benefits that could make some products cheaper or more attractive. Amazon's patent outlines a search engine that can store which loyalty programs you're a part of, and show any deals associated with that membership that businesses might be running. This could be useful for finding deals at partners of loyalty programs that you might not be aware of, but if you're already loyal to one hotel or airline brand, you're probably going to search them first before doing a general search.

Indoor drones

Amazon has been making waves for years about using autonomous drones for delivering orders, but to date, it hasn't gotten much traction. It seems, according to this patent, to be turning its attention at least partly to a less-regulated bit of airspace: indoors. The patent explains how autonomous drones, fitted with cameras and sensors, could be used to inspect inventory stored in the bins in the company's massive, high-ceilinged warehouses.

Apple

Smart tinted windows

This feels like a concept you'd see in sci-fi films set in a future where people have time to kill in the back of a self-driving car. Instead of staring at their phones, the sunroof and windows tint black, and news programs or views of scenic landscapes would replace whatever dystopian cityscape the car is driving through. It seems that Apple is looking into turning this into a reality, by creating see-through glass panes embedded with LEDs and other light sources that could change the color of the glass and allow information to be displayed on it. Pair that with the AR maps it was working on from last week, and you could have a whole new way of looking at driving on your hands.

Facebook

Curved-lens AR glasses

This feels a little bit like the walking-around version to Apple's patent above. Most AR headsets use cameras to portray information on flat surfaces in front of your eyes. If you're like me and wear giant glasses that make you look like an owl, that might be fine, as your entire field of view is covered by lenses, but this patent explores adding AR to the periphery as well. The glasses in the patent have lenses that curve around the side of the frames so that they can overlay information on your peripheral view, which could make the experience of augmenting reality feel a little less jarring. That said, you would have to go out in public wearing something that looks like this:

Microsoft

Automatic presentation controls

If you've ever watched a presentation from a major tech company and wondered how they nailed the timing on slide changes so well … it's probably because they've rehearsed it a thousand times and have someone whose job it is just to press forward on the slide at the right time. But if you don't have that luxury at your disposal, you might find the ideas in this patent helpful. Microsoft is exploring presentation software that would be able to listen for cues in your speech to detect that you've gotten to the end of one slide, and move you automatically on to the next. It also suggests doing a training run, where the user runs through their presentation, manually clicking where they want to change slides, and the system would record that and do it automatically when they go to present. I'm not sure about having to have something listen to me at all times to get this to work, but it'd make presentations a lot less awkward than the "please can you click to the next slide, no, not the last slide, the next one" that often happens.

Getting angry at virtual assistants to get results

Stressing other people out when you're in charge is a very easy, albeit not very amenable, way to get stuff done. If you're having a conversation with someone and they stress to you, "I need you to get this back to me by end of day," and you know that they are ultimately the person who could end your employment, you're very likely going to get it back to them soon, unless you don't want to work there anymore. It's a lot harder to convey emotion and stress like that to a digital assistant, but this patent is exploring being able to understand human intonation and emotion in requests, such as a user stressing that they need to get a meeting scheduled with someone by the end of the week, which the AI would interpret as it being an urgent meeting when looking for time to schedule. Hopefully when the robot uprising comes, they'll not be too annoyed at us taking them for granted as digital PAs.

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The (gaming) clones never stopped attacking

Clones keep getting through app review despite App Store rules about copying. It's a sign of the weaknesses in mobile app stores — and the weakness in Big Tech’s after-the-fact moderation approach.

Clones aren't always illegal, but they are widely despised.

Image: Disney

Two of the most fundamental tenets of the mobile gaming market:

  1. Free always wins.
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Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
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This past year has brought upon all businesses and enterprises an unparalleled change and challenge. This was the case at Honeywell, for example, a company with a legacy in innovation and technology for over a century. When I joined the company just months before the pandemic hit we were already in the midst of an intense transformation under the leadership of CEO Darius Adamczyk. This transformation spanned our portfolio and business units. We were already actively working on products and solutions in advanced phases of rollouts that the world has shown a need and demand for pre-pandemic. Those included solutions in edge intelligence, remote operations, quantum computing, warehouse automation, building technologies, safety and health monitoring and of course ESG and climate tech which was based on our exceptional success over the previous decade.

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

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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.

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'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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When the pandemic started, HR software startup Phenom knew that its employees were going to need mental health support. So it started offering a meditation program, as well as a counselor available for therapy sessions.

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