PATENT DROP: Uber’s evidence locker
Plus: Meta wants to give your eyes a break; Sony wants to know your mood.
Happy Thursday and welcome to Patent Drop!
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A quick programming note before we jump in: The next edition of Patent Drop will be published on Tuesday, Feb. 21 in observance of Presidents’ Day on Monday, Feb. 20.
This morning, we’re taking a look at Uber’s potential new safety feature, Meta’s plans to be easier on the eyes, and Sony’s tech to adjust your WFH workspace to fit your mood. Let’s take a look.
#1. Uber’s safety play
Uber has had its fair share of safety complaints. Now, it wants to keep track of them itself.
The company filed a patent for tech that controls “use of secure media recordings.” Essentially, this tech allows both riders and drivers to make media recordings of their rides in-app if an incident occurs, then stores those recordings securely and directly with Uber. That way, if the recordings need to be used as evidence in a case, law enforcement can retrieve them from Uber and be ensured that they haven’t been tampered with by either party involved.
“While users can record media on their devices separate from resources of the service, the recording of such media can be illegal, viewed as an invasion of privacy to the other party, or deemed unreliable,” Uber said in its application.
The recordings are also timestamped to ensure that no unrelated parties are hauled into court. For example, if a driver was recording before and after a passenger incident, any riders picked up before or after wouldn’t be brought into the case.
This isn’t Uber’s first rodeo with in-app safety features. In the past five years, the company has launched initiatives including address anonymization, the integrated 911 emergency button and in-app emergency contacts for riders. That hasn’t put an end to harassment cases – in July, upwards of 500 people filed legal claims alleging they were assaulted or harassed by the platform’s drivers.
The hope is that the new tech will lead to more civility. If both drivers and passengers know that they can be recorded, make recordings, and have those recording securely stored with Uber, this might make people feel safer and encourage better etiquette when in an Uber – or at the very least “remind people that they need to be on their decent human being behavior,” Daniel Farber Huang, CEO at consulting firm EchoStream Group, told me.
“In the world that we live in today, being able to have evidence that has data integrity attached to it is becoming increasingly important,” said Farber Huang. “And I think socializing the fact that recordings are going to be stored by Uber for all eternity could be a bit of a preventive measure.”
However much Uber bills this as enhancing peace of mind for drivers and riders, its main goal with this patent is more likely to cover its own rear. “First and foremost, this is here to protect Uber corporate,” said Farber Huang.
#2. Eyes on the prize
Meta wants all future inhabitants of the metaverse to have perfect vision. The company filed several patents related to vision tracking and monitoring, with the apparent goal of making your time spent in AR and VR environments more comfortable.
To start, the company filed a patent for “ultrasound devices” for eye measurements, such as interpupillary distance and eye relief, or the space between a user’s eye and the lens, to customize lens placement. Basically, Meta is becoming your eye doctor: Rather than a user having to adjust their VR or AR device manually every time it's used in order to see better, this system would allow for a customized artificial reality headset that can be different for every user, like a pair of glasses.
“Distance between the user's eye and a lens of a (head-mounted display) system, which is referred to as eye relief, may affect whether the user views the displayed content clearly and without discomfort,” Meta said in the filing.
Next up, Meta filed a patent for predicting “fixation distance,” or what you’ll see when you’re staring into space. Basically, rather than tracking your vision in real time, this tech will predict where you’ll look next.
The goal is to support the headset’s “gaze-driven rendering,” which shows a fully-rendered display only where your gaze is focused. If a system doesn’t have to adjust to where you’re looking in real-time, it doesn’t need as much processing power, resulting in reduced latency and an overall better user experience.
“Determining a focal distance of the user's eyes may be important to adjust the displayed content for comfort or context,” the company said in its filing.
And if you’re getting tired of your VR headset, Meta’s thought of a way to break from it without actually taking it off. The company filed a patent for tech enhancing its “passthrough” mode, which uses sensors to approximate your real-world environment in the headset. Though passthrough mode is already available to users, this system “improves the stability and resource requirements” of rendering passthrough images by memorizing areas that the user is frequently in, so it doesn’t have to “continuously calculate” the depth of the area around you.
These patents are just a few of the several that Meta has filed relating to eye monitoring and movement. What’s new is that Meta seems to be concerned with making users’ eyes as comfortable as possible in virtual reality environments.
Meta and other metaverse creators are holding out hope that the average user will one spend all their time in a VR or AR environment. But doing so for long periods of time can lead to eye strain, dizziness, and disorientation. Finding ways around this is an obstacle which stands in the way of making widespread adoption of metaverse technology a reality.
Meta has bet its future on the metaverse. Making a system that users can actually stay in without exhaustion, and can take a break from without actually removing the headset, could be key to its ambitions.
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#3. Status update: Sony is 🙂 feeling happy
Sony thinks it knows how to make you feel better about work. The company filed a patent for a “mood oriented workspace” app which tracks your mood and makes recommendations about how you should schedule your day.
Here’s how it works: Sony’s app will ask you to pick a mood based on a preset list. Based on what you choose, the app will make recommendations for priority contacts, tasks and scheduling, as well as make aesthetic changes to fit the mood, like wallpaper, music recommendations, and dark or light themes. For example, if you told the app you’re feeling sad, it could change backgrounds and color themes to fit the mood, prioritize solo-tasks over group ones, and play your favorite Phoebe Bridgers album on repeat.
This app will also make your mood available to others in your network, and your coworker’s moods available to you, in order to tell who does and doesn’t want to be contacted. The purpose? Opening and increasing communication among increasingly distributed workforces that “do not have access to any social observations or body language.”
“As a junior or new member of the team, it might be harder to reach out to people directly,” Sony said in its filing. “Using this app and choosing that the user feels stuck or frustrated might encourage other members of the team or company to reach out to the user and/or make a connection.”
While working from home has provided flexibility for many, it’s also created barriers in communication among coworkers, as things like small talk and body language are practically non-existent for remote workforces. This lack of proximity can also impact mental health: In a survey of 1,000 adults by the American Psychiatric Association, two-thirds reported experiencing a decline in their mental health as a result of WFH isolation.
Several tech companies are trying to solve the WFH nonverbal communication deficit with everything from forced eye contact in video calls to virtual event avatars. But Sony’s tech has the potential to go a step further by helping distributed employees better understand one another, Praful Tickoo, HR expert and talent analytics leader at Genpact, told me.
“Amidst ongoing macro-economic challenges, employees increasingly expect meaningful experiences from their employers, that are highly personalized, responsive to their needs, and constantly improved,” Tickoo said. “We’ve seen first-hand that implementing technology to optimize HR processes is key to talent management and can help enhance overall employee experience significantly.”
Here are some other fun patents we wanted to share.
Apple wants to pick you up when you’re down. The company filed a patent for tech that detects when a user has fallen, determines the “severity of an injury suffered by the user,” and generates a notification requesting assistance for the user. Essentially, it’s a better version of Life Alert.
Stripe wants to make its checkout pages less annoying. The company is seeking to patent checkout page optimization tech to “forestall negative user action.” Basically, the tech can tell when certain features lead to negative consequences (returned items, canceled orders, etc.) and uses machine learning to fix them for the next orders.
Nike is getting technical. The company filed a patent for “Asset Unlocking Using Augmented Reality,” for the authentication of consumer products, tracking user movements and awarding users with “additional digital assets or physical assets” based on those movements.
What else is new?
DocuSign is laying off 10% of its workforce, or roughly 700 employees, in its second round of cuts in the last five months.
A high-ranking DOJ official warned against using TikTok due to security concerns. “I don’t use TikTok and I would not advise anybody to do so,” Lisa Monaco, deputy attorney general at the DOJ, said at an event in London.
Jaime Rogozinski, founder of WallStreetBets, is suing Reddit for allegedly breaching its contract by ousting him as the subreddit’s moderator.
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These are super helpful and insightful. Seems like a real life cheat to glimpse into the near future. One of my favorite substacks.