Power

Microsoft wants to record your emotions

Facebook IoT controllers, Apple triangle tablets, Amazon tracking you in IRL and other patents from Big Tech.

Microsoft wants to record your emotions

Your memories in AR.

Image: Microsoft/USPTO

Welcome to a special Monday edition of the Big Tech patent roundup! Hopefully you're reading this while waiting for your grill to heat up or socially distancing yourself at the beach. If not, go outside and enjoy the day off, then come back and learn about what Big Tech has in store for our future. Up this week, safer noise-canceling headphones, AR maps, flexible tablets and emotion-recording AR glasses. Maybe just stay at the beach, honestly.

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

Staying safe with noise-canceling headphones

If you've ever worn a pair of noise-canceling headphones while out in the world, you'll know how easy it is to get lost in the music and … almost get hit by a truck while crossing the road. Google's new patent aims to make wearing headphones a little safer. The concept in the patent is to have sensors on the outside of headphones that can help glean what you're doing while wearing them: If you're out running in a busy downtown area with lots of traffic, the headphones could automatically switch between noise-canceling and a transparency mode so you're not hit with an unexpected surprise.

Identifying songs

The concept of using software to figure out what song is playing isn't new — even Google's own ability to listen to the world around a smartphone and pick up songs playing has been around for a couple years — but I have to give props to the patent artist here for the song they chose to illustrate this idea. If you somehow haven't heard "Sandstorm" by Darude, you must listen to it right now.

Amazon

Tracking the stores you go to

Sites like Amazon already track you around the web to show you ads and see where else you're shopping, but what if they did that in real life? A new patent from the retailer explores how devices could be used to track the movements of potential customers to greet them when they show up at a store, based on how they're traveling. This could be useful for Amazon's subsidiary Whole Foods, which offers grocery pickups (which are especially useful during this pandemic), but could also be used to offer targeted discounts or messages to shoppers as they show up to shop in the store.

Sending Ring videos to the cops

Ring's ties to law enforcement have been well-documented at this point, but this new concept seems to close the loop between doorbell owners and the cops. Amazon's patent is for a function in the Ring app where anyone picked up by a Ring doorbell could be recorded and have that video sent by the owner to the police with one button, or even call the cops right from the app. How convenient! Also: If someone who looks like this stick figure ever tried to rob your house, I wouldn't worry too much.

Apple

Fabric hardware and 'Power Glove'

Apple has had a few patents recently around interweaving electric circuitry into fabrics, and this week it was awarded two more. One of them deals with how to actually put circuits into individual fabrics, and the other is something that reminds me of the single greatest gaming peripheral of all time: the Power Glove. It's basically a mesh fabric glove that could be used to control things like VR in a way that would feel more natural than the controls on the market today. I can't wait to use it to control a 2D-racing game with a pair Wayfarers on.

Pyramid tablets

This is a pretty neat idea from Apple, for a device with a wraparound, flexible display that can be folded into any shape you want. This is an objectively useful concept, and I could see folding up a tablet or phone so it can prop itself up for video calls or for use as a laptop, and then unfolding it to read a book. But with one of the concepts in the patent, for the tablet folded into a triangular prism, I couldn't help but think of "The Office." Ten years ago, the show parodied Apple's iPad with The Pyramid, a triangular-shaped tablet that made very little sense, but is, after all, "the strongest shape ever constructed, a shape that fits all other shapes inside of it."

Augmented reality maps

Apple is trying hard to shed the early negative reactions people have had to its Maps program, recently adding in a ton of new features. It also seems it's trying to catch up with a feature that Google Maps has had for a while: augmented reality maps. This patent outlines overlaying directions onto the real world using an iPhone camera, where you could also search for locations from the AR function. Will this be the thing that gets Apple users to switch back from using Google Maps? Perhaps it'll take off when Apple does eventually release some sort of AR glasses that it's been working on for so long.

Facebook

Controlling IoT devices through Facebook

Can you imagine a world where you give Facebook access to the cameras, lights and other smart devices in your home? Facebook can. Its new patent explores what it would be like for the social network to have a function for controlling IoT devices. There could be some value in using a social network's graph to connect people together to see if they know each other and allow them to share IoT permissions via a social network, which the patent discusses, but it still seems like a stretch for Facebook to be the place where you control your home.

Microsoft

Recording the world, based on your emotions

This feels right out of "Black Mirror." This new Microsoft patent suggests using sensors to glean the emotional state of someone wearing AR glasses and using that to trigger video recording. This could have some very lovely outcomes — like parents managing to capture their baby's first steps before they could possibly reach for a phone — but it also opens up some more troubling possibilities, assuming it could even work. The patent outlines some other moods that could trigger video recording, including "focused, engaged, distracted, bored, sleepy, confused or frustrated." It's not too much of a stretch to see this being used to monitor students' or employees' attention, or other situations where perhaps you don't exactly want someone recording — like the bathroom, perhaps.

Measuring soil with computers

Microsoft loves to talk about AI and big data in its commercials (especially if Common is in them), but it seems those ads are more than just bluster. This patent deals with precision agriculture, the concept of using computer-monitoring hardware and software to understand more about the land you're trying to farm, getting more out of the same amount of land. It outlines a soil-surveying device, with a radio antenna, that could connect to software to monitor things like soil moisture and electrical conductivity, both of which are important to tell you about the health of the land you're trying to farm. In the future, your farm could well be running Windows.

Climate

This carbon capture startup wants to clean up the worst polluters

The founder and CEO of point-source carbon capture company Carbon Clean discusses what the startup has learned, the future of carbon capture technology, as well as the role of companies like his in battling the climate crisis.

Carbon Clean CEO Aniruddha Sharma told Protocol that fossil fuels are necessary, at least in the near term, to lift the living standards of those who don’t have access to cars and electricity.

Photo: Carbon Clean

Carbon capture and storage has taken on increasing importance as companies with stubborn emissions look for new ways to meet their net zero goals. For hard-to-abate industries like cement and steel production, it’s one of the few options that exist to help them get there.

Yet it’s proven incredibly challenging to scale the technology, which captures carbon pollution at the source. U.K.-based company Carbon Clean is leading the charge to bring down costs. This year, it raised a $150 million series C round, which the startup said is the largest-ever funding round for a point-source carbon capture company.

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Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

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Great products are built on strong patents

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Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

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James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Workplace

Why companies cut staff after raising millions

Are tech firms blowing millions in funding just weeks after getting it? Experts say it's more complicated than that.

Bolt, Trade Republic, HomeLight, and Stord all drew attention from funding announcements that happened just weeks or days before layoffs.

Photo: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

Fintech startup Bolt was one of the first tech companies to slash jobs, cutting 250 employees, or a third of its staff, in May. For some workers, the pain of layoffs was a shock not only because they were the first, but also because the cuts came just four months after Bolt had announced a $355 million series E funding round and achieved a peak valuation of $11 billion.

“Bolt employees were blind sided because the CEO was saying just weeks ago how everything is fine,” an anonymous user wrote on the message board Blind. “It has been an extremely rough day for 1/3 of Bolt employees,” another user posted. “Sadly, I was one of them who was let go after getting a pay-raise just a couple of weeks ago.”

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Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Climate

The fight to define the carbon offset market's future

The world’s largest carbon offset issuer is fighting a voluntary effort to standardize the industry. And the fate of the climate could hang in the balance.

It has become increasingly clear that scaling the credit market will first require clear standards and transparency.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

There’s a major fight brewing over what kind of standards will govern the carbon offset market.

A group of independent experts looking to clean up the market’s checkered record and the biggest carbon credit issuer on the voluntary market is trying to influence efforts to define what counts as a quality credit. The outcome could make or break an industry increasingly central to tech companies meeting their net zero goals.

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Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Policy

White House AI Bill of Rights lacks specific guidance for AI rules

The document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is long on tech guidance, but short on restrictions for AI.

While the document provides extensive suggestions for how to incorporate AI rights in technical design, it does not include any recommendations for restrictions on the use of controversial forms of AI.

Photo: Ana Lanza/Unsplash

It was a year in the making, but people eagerly anticipating the White House Bill of Rights for AI will have to continue waiting for concrete recommendations for future AI policy or restrictions.

Instead, the document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is legally non-binding and intended to be used as a handbook and a “guide for society” that could someday inform government AI legislation or regulations.

Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights features a list of five guidelines for protecting people in relation to AI use:

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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.

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