Microsoft wants to turn your shirt into a computer

Bringing your car with you, stopping stream sniping, AR privacy and other patents from Big Tech.

Microsoft wants to turn your shirt into a computer

The height of fashion.

Image: USPTO/Microsoft

Welcome to the end another week in the longest January of all time! At least that means another patent roundup is headed your way. As ever, Big Tech had some great ones this week, ranging from the truly mad, like Microsoft computerizing fabrics, to Google making game controllers more interactive and Apple building software for cars that moves with you.

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

Getting notifications on a game controller

This one brings me back to the days of the Sega Dreamcast. It was a beautiful, flawed console, but one of its most recognizable innovations was the VMU, a small device with a little LCD display that could display in-game messages and play little mini-games when undocked from the controller. Google's latest patent seems to be inspired by the ethos of the VMU, envisioning presumably another iteration of its Stadia controller with a small screen or speakers that could announce in-game messages or other notifications to the gamer without distracting them from the game they're in. Maybe they'll even release a Godzilla edition.

Just a button that says "Go"

This patent does what it says on the tin. It's just a patent for the design of a large button in Waymo autonomous vehicles for passengers to press when they're ready to … go. Heaven forbid someone has a go button that looks like yours.

Amazon

Stopping stream sniping

This is a big issue in the world of gaming: when you're streaming and someone playing the same game as you watches your stream to see where you are. It's like back in the old days when you'd play a game with your friends and cheat by looking at their quarter of the screen. This new patent from Amazon, which owns Twitch, aims to fix this, either by obfuscating pieces of information from the streamer so another gamer can't figure out where they are, or just blocking people watching the stream from joining the game altogether. Unfortunately, it seems like if you want to be a jerk, you could just log onto the stream from another device.

Molecular authenticators

Perhaps Amazon is interested in getting into the precious gem and old Rolex game. This new patent outlines a system for using molecular-level sensors to determine an item's authenticity, purportedly to cut down on counterfeit goods. I could definitely see this being useful for items that can be relatively easily authenticated, like diamonds. But considering there have been countless issues with knock-offs and unsafe products hitting Amazon's site, perhaps there are other solutions worth looking into.

Apple

Disappearing buttons

It sometimes feels as if the platonic ideal of an Apple product is a single piece of brushed aluminum and glass, unburdened by such trivialities as buttons and sockets. And perhaps this patent helps Apple get there: It outlines methods for creating buttons or sliders that can be hidden under another material. It could be something like a power button or volume controls embedded below the aluminum surface of a MacBook, which reveal themselves when illuminated. It's like the controls of the 2003 iPod, revived for today's devices.



Bringing your preferences with you

Have you ever driven a friend's car and had to readjust everything to your preferences? The rearview mirror's in the wrong place, your seat needs to be much higher, you don't want the heated steering wheel on — it's just not how you drive. You might even have the exact same car as your friend, but it's not like you can automatically bring your setup preferences with you. Apple's new patent envisions just that scenario, with your car's system interacting with your phone and your phone then interacting with your friend's car. If Apple is serious about building software that future cars run on, this seems like a real possibility.

Facebook

A privacy sound field

As Facebook and others continue to push augmented reality into the mainstream, it's working on ways to make sure you can still hear the world around you, but the world can't hear your conversations. Instead of jamming headphones into your ears and blocking out the world, Facebook is looking at ways of broadcasting audio, while blocking the sound to potential nosy passersby. The patent outlines a system where an AR device can detect sounds around it and block out projecting sounds to certain nearby areas based on where people are. It seems like it might just be easier to wear headphones, to be honest.

Microsoft

Computerized shirts

Have you ever wished your computer was actually just your shirt? Probably not, but what if your fabrics had more computerized parts? It's something Google has pioneered with its Jacquard project, and something Microsoft is apparently looking into. But beyond just weaving electronically conductive material into fabric, Microsoft's patent goes further, suggesting embedding things like "microcontrollers, integrated circuits, solar cells, [LEDs], batteries, conductors, actuators, switches, buttons," among other things. Perhaps someday soon you could literally wear your computer. If you wanted to do that.

Letting AI decide aesthetics

Microsoft is continuing its recent trend of outsourcing creativity to AI with this patent. This particular patent is concerned with what search results pages look like, arguing "in addition to relevance and freshness, people want aesthetically pleasing search results." I haven't really ever thought about the aesthetics of what a Bing or Google search page looks like, but if an AI system could arrange and curate it to my specific tastes, I could see myself being more engaged with it. But half the time I'm just searching for the closest taco joint or when Chelsea is playing — I'm trying to spend as little time on the search place as possible and as much time eating tacos while watching soccer as possible.

Turning batteries into antennae

As devices get smaller and smaller, it becomes more difficult to get all the important components in. Some things, like batteries, just haven't been miniaturized like others, so Microsoft is looking into ways to make them pull double duty. In this patent, it outlines a setup where an array of small batteries could also double as radio antennas. For small IoT devices, you could see a design like this being useful, where space is at such a premium.

Protocol | Policy

5 things to know about FCC nominee Gigi Sohn

The veteran of some of the earliest tech policy fights is a longtime consumer champion and net-neutrality advocate.

Gigi Sohn, who President Joe Biden nominated to serve on the FCC, is a longtime net-neutrality advocate.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Gigi Sohn to serve as a Federal Communications Commissioner, teeing up a Democratic majority at the agency that oversees broadband issues after months of delay.

Like Lina Khan, who Biden picked in June to head up the Federal Trade Commission, Sohn is a progressive favorite. And if confirmed, she'll take up a position in an agency trying to pull policy levers on net neutrality, privacy and broadband access even as Congress is stalled.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

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Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian
Protocol | Workplace

Adobe wants a more authentic NFT world

Adobe's Content Credentials feature will allow Creative Cloud subscribers to attach edit-tracking information to Photoshop files. The goal is to create a more trustworthy NFT market and digital landscape.

Adobe's Content Credentials will allow users to attach their identities to an image

Image: Adobe

Remember the viral, fake photo of Kurt Cobain and Biggie Smalls that duped and delighted the internet in 2017? Doctored images manipulate people and erode trust and we're not great at spotting them. The entire point of the emerging NFT art market is to create valuable and scarce digital files and when there isn't an easy way to check for an image's origin and edits, there's a problem. What if someone steals an NFT creator's image and pawns it off as their own? As a hub for all kinds of multimedia, Adobe feels a responsibility to combat misinformation and provide a safe space for NFT creators. That's why it's rolling out Content Credentials, a record that can be attached to a Photoshop file of a creator's identity and includes any edits they made.

Users can connect their social media addresses and crypto wallet addresses to images in Photoshop. This further proves the image creator's identity, but it's also helpful in determining the creators of NFTs. Adobe has partnered with NFT marketplaces KnownOrigin, OpenSea, Rarible and SuperRare in this effort. "Today there's not a way to know that the NFT you're buying was actually created by a true creator," said Adobe General Counsel Dana Rao. "We're allowing the creator to show their identity and attach it to the image."

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Protocol | China

Why another Chinese lesbian dating app just shut down

With neither political support nor a profitable business model, lesbian dating apps are finding it hard to survive in China.

Operating a dating app for LGBTQ+ communities in China is like walking a tightrope.

Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

When Lesdo, a Chinese dating app designed for lesbian women, announced it was closing down, it didn't come as a surprise to the LGBTQ+ community.

It's unclear what directly caused this decision. 2021 hasn't been kind to China's queer communities; WeChat has deactivated queer groups' public accounts and Beijing has pressured charity organizations not to work with queer activists.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

The Oura Ring was a sleep-tracking hit. Can the next one be even more?

Oura wants to be a media company, an activity tracker and even a way to know you're sick before you feel sick.

Over the last few years, the Oura Ring has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch.

Photo: Oura

Oura CEO Harpreet Rai swears he didn't know Kim Kardashian was a fan. He was as surprised as anyone when she started posting screenshots from the Oura app to her Instagram story, and got into a sleep battle with fellow Oura user Gwyneth Paltrow. Or when Jennifer Aniston revealed that Jimmy Kimmel got her hooked on Oura … and how her ring fell off in a salad. "I am addicted to it," Aniston said, "and it's ruining my life" by shaming her about her lack of sleep. "I think we're definitely seeing traction outside of tech," Rai said. "Which is cool."

Over the last couple of years, Oura's ring (imaginatively named the Oura Ring) has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch. The company started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, but really started to find traction with its second-generation model in 2018. It's not exactly a mainstream device — Oura said it has sold more than 500,000 rings, up from 150,000 in March 2020 but still not exactly Apple Watch levels — but it has reached some of the most successful, influential and probably sleep-deprived people in the industry. Jack Dorsey is a professed fan, as is Marc Benioff.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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