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.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins