Power

Apple wants to air-condition your VR headset

Google wants to make storytime more fun, Microsoft hopes you never miss a message again, and more patents from Big Tech.

Apple wants to air-condition your VR headset

Apple wants to put a fan in your VR headset. (Not this fan.)

Photo: Immo Wegmann/Unsplash

Hello! Welcome back to our weekly look at patent filings from Big Tech. I'm looking forward to sharing the weirdest (and coolest) patents companies have filed in the past week. But just 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.

This week: Google wants to make storytime more engaging, Amazon hopes to make shopping customizable, Apple wants to keep your head cool, Facebook doesn't want you to hurt yourself and Microsoft wants to make sure you never miss a text.

Alphabet

Storytime fun

I read aloud to my son every night before bed, and I try my best to provide silly voice effects ("Vroom!" "Crash!") when applicable. What would be even better: real effects that accompanied my silly ones. This patent imagines exactly that, with a nearby Nest speaker as the provider of the sound effects, based on a trigger word. I admit that I'd miss yelling "ROAR!" but maybe the speaker can just act as a backup.

Amazon

Amazon Go+?

Listen. I love Amazon Go stores. My least favorite thing in the world is interacting with strangers, and Amazon Go allows me to get what I need with very minimal interaction. The one problem with these stores is that you can only buy what's in stock. This patent imagines a retail store with automated checkout, but you can buy food or drinks that are made to order, as well as prepackaged items. I guess that means I'd have to talk to someone when I order, but at least I can quickly run away without needing to pull out my wallet.

This VR air conditioner looks very stylish and comfortable.Image: USPTO

Apple

AC for a VR headset

The worst part about using a VR headset: The band that presses up against the forehead is a literal sponge for sweat. This patent addresses that concern by describing a little cooling unit that circulates air in the headset to keep you cool, and the deflector specifically points the air at your face. That way you can play Beat Saber for hours without making the headset all gross.

Facebook

Collision avoidance in VR

I have an Oculus Quest 2, which is super fun to play games with and is very impressive. My one gripe, though, is that before I start playing, I have to outline my physical space with the controller, so that it can warn me if I'm about to bump into something. Since I'm bouncing around, it's inevitable that my arm pops into the danger zone, and a red grid shows up in my vision, warning me that I'm too close to a table or chair or dog.

This patent imagines incorporating real-world objects as objects that relate more specifically to the game. So rather than looking at a couch, when you put the headset on, you're looking at a treasure chest. And the chair is now a tree. That way you can stay in the game without hurting yourself, or the dog.

Microsoft

Never miss a message again

Sending a text message is easy and great, until you go through a tunnel or enter a building that has no service. If you're expecting a text, it might not come through while you're in there. And if it's a really long tunnel, it might not come through at all. This patent wants to help in these situations by actually storing the notification and sending it once the phone is back on the network. This alleviates the need for your friend to keep trying to send the message, and instead gives it to you when you're finally out of the tunnel.

Policy

How I decided to go all-in on a federal contract — before assignment

Amanda Renteria knew Code for America could help facilitate access to expanded child tax credits. She also knew there was no guarantee her proof of concept would convince others — but tried anyway.

Code for America CEO Amanda Renteria explained how it's helped people claim the Child Tax Credit.

Photo: Code for America

Click banner image for more How I decided series

After the American Rescue Plan Act passed in March 2021, the U.S. government expanded child tax credits to provide relief for American families during the pandemic. The legislation allowed some families to nearly double their tax benefits per child, which was especially critical for low-income families, who disproportionately bore the financial brunt of the pandemic.

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Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

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Workplace

Why companies cut staff after raising millions

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Photo: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

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“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 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.

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