yesMike MurphyNone
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Microsoft wants to deliver to your car with drones

Robots digging cable lines, Facebook tracking IRL and other patents from Big Tech.

Microsoft wants to deliver to your car with drones

Seems practical.

Image: Microsoft/USPTO

Congratulations on making it to the end of another week that felt like a month. Hopefully you can now use this day to kick back, relax and enjoy reading about some of the zaniest patents that Big Tech was awarded this week. And perhaps because it's a holiday weekend, these companies really delivered, including: Microsoft setting up the most dramatic drone deliveries ever; Facebook using robots to dig tunnels for fiber cables; and Amazon wanting to repaint roads for self-driving cars.

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

Where the sidewalk ends

This isn't a patent about Shel Silverstein, unfortunately. Waymo wants to make sure its driverless vehicles know where the road ends and the sidewalk begins; the intent is to be able to differentiate between objects generally found on the side of a road that a car might need to worry about, like a crosswalk. And in another patent awarded this week, it wants to make sure that any anomalies its cars come across as they traverse the world, such as construction in a lane of road, can be shared with all other Waymo vehicles in the area. Like Waze, but for Waymo. Wayzemo.

Amazon

Machine-readable information on roadways

One way to make it easier to get self-driving cars on the road is to make the world easier for them to understand. Instead of making robots understand our road signs, we can make ones that only they can read. In the vision of Amazon's patent, that could mean machine-readable code painted onto roads next to lane markers. This could lead to cars having to store less information onboard about local road conditions, instead reading signs in the road that told them they were entering a low-speed zone or that a sharp curve is ahead. Pretty much like how we navigate areas we don't know, except without words and pictures.

Apple

Controlling autonomous vehicles with a wave of your hand

Driving is pretty fun, but it might be a lot more fun to pretend you're a Jedi controlling your vehicle with a wave of your hand. Perhaps that's what the team at Apple was thinking with this patent. The goal seems to be to give passengers in autonomous vehicles a way to interact with the vehicle in case they need to change something about their ride, and using hand gestures is more inclusive than voice or touch. And also it's pretty cool to put your hand up, gesture vaguely to the left, and have your robot car take you to the Starbucks you decided you needed on the way to see your folks.

Digital info overlaid on the world

As rumors of Apple's potential augmented-reality glasses heats up, the company's patents are certainly doing nothing to dampen the chatter. This patent outlines a system for improving the accuracy of information overlaid on the real world in an AR setting, such as a mobile device, or as the patent says, in a "semi-transparent head mounted display." There's few details on what this (apparently costly) headset Apple is working on will look like, but it does seem that the company's patents are now getting down into the minutiae of what building a solid AR system would look like.

Facebook

Using Facebook data to learn about customers in store

If you've ever wondered what your Facebook data might actually be used for, this patent might give you an idea. Facebook seems to be looking at ways to cross-reference its user base against radio beacons deployed into retail stores. So if you're a Facebook user and you've given Facebook the adequate permissions, a store with a beacon setup could see the demographic of every Facebook user (which is, in many countries, most people) who walks through their door. In the patent, the beacon could glean data like which customers are repeat visitors, how long they're in the store, their age, birthdays, loyalty status and other pieces of information that can be used to sell them more things.

A robot that lays fiber-optic cable

Facebook has been working on building its own fiber networks for a while now, but it seems the company is also interested in finding novel ways to actually build those networks. This patent outlines a robotic drill that can be remotely controlled to dig a small tunnel underground and lay cable behind it in one action. It would have sensors onboard to help it avoid difficult-to-break substances, like hard rocks, while it moves underground. I'd also like one of these to redo all the wiring in my apartment that's hanging in front of the walls because I don't trust myself to drill holes like this.

Microsoft

Delivering packages to moving cars via drones

This sounds more like something out of a "Fast & Furious" movie than something you'd see in real life, but Microsoft is apparently exploring the feasibility of delivering packages with autonomous drones while people sit in their cars. While there might be some benefit to delivering to your car in some situations — perhaps you want a pizza delivered while you're at the beach — I can't think of a lot of instances where whatever you're getting delivered you need while you're still in the car, as opposed to dropped near you in a field or something safer. Unless you've just heisted some jewels and are making a quick getaway, but still want to make sure you get that thing you were up all night bidding on eBay for.

Life events on a calendar

If you're anything like me, you have a very visual memory. I take a lot of photos, and invariably, I can't remember when I went somewhere or did something, but I did take a picture of it. Thanks to the magic of the cloud, I can usually fire up Apple or Google Photos and scroll back in time until I find what I was looking for, and then figure out when it was. Microsoft's new patent wants to make that a little easier, by ascribing life events to your calendar. So when you went on your big trip to Cancun over spring break three years ago, Microsoft would've flagged to you at the time asking if you wanted to add something like "Cancun Trip" and all the photos from while you were there to your calendar. You could then scroll back through that calendar and see exactly what you did when. It's like exporting your memory to the cloud.

Haptic VR gloves

It's like "Ready Player One," but more real. Microsoft has patented a set of wearable gloves that could provide a small sense of reality when playing VR games. The mechanized gloves would be filled with fluids that could contract the gloves to make touching virtual solid objects feel similar to real ones. The gloves could also vibrate to give a sense of haptic feedback in other ways. Imagine playing a baseball game where you could feel the weight of the bat in your hands and the buzz of the bat when you hit the ball. Hopefully future VR systems won't also be encoding the feeling of getting hit by a pitch, though.

Transforming 2021

The future of retail is hiding in an abandoned mall

The warehouse is moving closer to customers' houses as ecommerce eats the world of retail.

Microfulfillment centers could help retailers compete with the largest ecommerce companies.

Photo: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The American mall has been decimated by the rise in ecommerce. But soon, it may also be their savior — sort of, at least.

Long before the pandemic kept people at home in front of their computers, buying everything they needed to see out lockdown online, malls were on the decline and ecommerce was on the rise.

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.

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.

Keep Reading Show less
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Latest Stories