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Google wants to put a selfie ring on your finger

AR tagging, avoiding exes, connected prosthetics and other patents from Big Tech.

Google wants to put a selfie ring on your finger

All the single selfies? All the single selfies.

Image: USPTO/Google

It's been another long week in lockdown, but thankfully the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has approved some truly fascinating patents this week to take our attention away from … everything else going on these days. Google is looking at building a selfie ring and fixing distracted driving, Facebook wants you to tag the real world with AR, and Microsoft really wants to help you avoid your problematic ex. I could definitely see these three patents going together well in the future.

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

A wearable selfie ring

This sounds like something that could equally appear on "Black Mirror" and my own finger. Google has a new patent for a smart ring that doubles as a small selfie camera, because heaven forbid you're ever without a camera to capture every moment of your life. It even features a tiny button below the camera to capture the selfie, so you wouldn't need a second device to take the photo. The future rules.

Recognizing accents

Voice assistants have long struggled with languages spoken in accents that differ from those they were trained on, and it seems Google is trying to figure out how to solve this. It's building up a library of different accents, according to this patent, to classify and understand languages in various accents. Some of them are ones you'd expect, like a Southern drawl or a Boston accent, but then some are extremely specific, like Australian English with an Indonesian accent; some are just random, like "U.S. surfer" and Australian scuba diver. What exactly does an Aussie scuba diver sound like? Is this the setup to a joke I should know?

Blocking smartphones while driving

People are going to hate this, but honestly, it's a great idea. Phones are extremely distracting when you're driving, and even though we all know that, we still use them behind the wheel. This idea from Google would basically block content from being shown while in motion. Unlike other "do-not-disturb" driving modes that can be circumvented, this would be built into the phone's software to deny access to certain programs when you're traveling quickly, such as blocking access to YouTube videos while driving. But the question of how to determine whether the phone owner is driving is still a tricky one; to avoid compute-heavy processes like eye-tracking software, the patent suggests using an algorithm to determine whether the user's reaction time appears to suggest they're doing something else.

Amazon

Tracking people with magnetic tiles

Amazon's Go stores use a range of sensors to track you and the products you select as you move through the cashier-less experiences, and that system apparently includes magnets. This patent outlines a floor made up of a series of electromagnetic tiles that, when paired with some other sensor (a phone, perhaps?), can help track how many people are moving through a space, and where exactly they are. During a socially distant time, a system like this seems especially valuable.

Apple

Keeping wet clothes from messing with your Apple Watch

The latest Apple Watch software update has a nice little feature that recognizes when you're washing your hands and counts 20 seconds for you, helping you follow CDC safety guidelines. If you're like me, though, you don't want to roll up your sleeves before washing because if you had COVID-19 on your hands, you'll get it on your sleeves. You likely end up with wet cuffs and an Apple Watch that thinks you're touching all over the screen. This patent aims to fix that, by essentially guessing that when a large amount of input comes from the side of the watch closest to a sleeve, it should probably ignore it.

Facebook

Virtually tagging your friends in the real world

Remember the mid-2010s, when tagging people on Facebook was still a thing you did all the time? Facebook apparently wants to bring that experience back — for the real world. AR glasses aren't really a thing yet, but Facebook is preparing for that apparent eventuality with a patent that's exploring how we can digitally tag our friends and interests IRL. That could be something like tagging a friend to tell them to check out a piece of art at a museum they'd like, or to remind someone of a restaurant you've loved in their neighborhood. It's a neat concept that definitely won't turn into digital graffiti all over the physical world.

Giving a sense of touch back to amputees

This is a really interesting idea that seems to have been pioneered by researchers at Dartmouth College and acquired by Facebook. It's essentially a patent for a prosthetic device that can create haptic feedback for amputees. The device, as it's shown in the patent drawings, could be a robotic gripper arm attachment with sensors in the grippers that correlate to haptic actuators next to the wearer's skin. When pressure is applied to the grippers, the actuators would pulse or vibrate to give the wearer some sense of touch. Facebook is far from the only one researching this, but if technology like this proves to be successful, it could be a huge boon for the amputee community.

Microsoft

Making your own Clippy

Remember Clippy? He was that little paperclip icon on Word that tried to help you make better documents while really just being distracting and annoying. If you wanted to recreate that feeling for documents you manage for others, you might be in luck. Microsoft is exploring tools that would let users create document-specific assistants to help others who use them glean the contextual information they're after. Sadly, it's unclear if these assistants can be made to look like an anthropomorphic paperclip.

Searching for similar jobs

Sometimes hiring managers aren't always aligned on what a job title should be relative to the job's responsibilities. As a result, candidates may miss out on roles they'd be a good fit for if they use search terms that don't correlate with the posted listings. Microsoft is exploring deeper search criteria, like cross-referencing industries, skills required and length of experience, to help surface results that might be useful to a job seeker. Hopefully this will ensure no one ever confuses an Assistant Regional Manager with the Assistant to the Regional Manager.

Avoiding your ex — with technology

This patent has one of the most relatable titles I've ever seen: "Undesirable encounter avoidance." It also has a wonderful little story included in the copy about Alice and her friends Bart, Chris, Doug and Emily. Using social media and GPS, Alice can find out if she's near her friends (if they've all opted in), and if any of them are going to her favorite coffee shop. But when Alice breaks up with Bart, she might want to avoid the coffee shop if he's there. Microsoft is proposing using that same location tech to make sure Alice and others can avoid awkward situations IRL. Finally, a fantastic use case for the digital panopticon Big Tech has built.

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers 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 Signal at (510)731-8429.

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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

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.

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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