In through the outfield blog

51 posts categorized "Electronics"

16 May 2012

Disney's Touché touch-sensing invention

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Disney has come up with a revolutionary touch-sensing invention,Touché, as explained in a Yahoo article.

Different types of touch would mean that a doorknob would know how to lock itself by the way it had been touched, or a sofa would alter the room's lighting or the volume on the TV depending on how you sat in it. It seems to me that if you aren't aware of this, things could suddenly happen, not always to your satisfaction, and you would have to learn a lot about how each device worked.

Dr Poupyrev is apparently key to the project, and I have found three patent applications by him for Disney, all filed on the same day (8 April 2010). They were also all published on the same day (13 October 2011). 

The one that most closely resembles the invention is Generating virtual stimulation devices and illusory sensations using tactile display technology, which is only a US application (all foreign patent rights seem to have been given up). It appears to me to be somewhat different from the TouchĂ© as it talks of illusions (Disney is the applicant, after all). Below is the main drawing.

Disney tactile display patent image
The document's summary says "Systems and methods provide for controlling the characteristics of stimulation devices arranged in a grid topology to generate virtual stimulation devices and illusory sensations. Embodiments provide for the generation of illusory sensations including, but not limited to, continuous linear movement and shapes such as curves, squares, and circles. According to embodiments, a tactile display apparatus is provided that facilitates user interaction with the tactile display. The tactile display apparatus includes an interface embedded with stimulation devices and a control device that controls the operation of the stimulation devices to generate illusory sensations."

Also published were System and method for sensing human activity by monitoring impedance, which was also published as a PCT "World" document requesting protection across many countries, and Motionbeam interaction techniques for handheld projectors, which I thought very intriguing. The idea is that you can wave your hand across the beam to change what happens on the screen. The main drawing is given below.

Disney motion beam interaction patent image

I suspect that the publication of Ivan Poupyrev's patent application is awaited. It takes 18 months for patent applications to be published from the date of filing, and those who have filed can if they wish talk about the invention. He has his own page on the Web and many of his writings are available via Google Scholar.

Also in his name is a granted US patent for Sony, Apparatus and method for touch screen interaction based on tactile feedback and pressure measurement, and US patent application Electrovibration for touch surfaces, which I strongly suspect is also for Disney. It is an oddity of the US patent system that it is not required at the published application stage to state the name of the applicant, only at grant (all other countries as far as I am aware do so). At least one co-inventor, Ali Israr, worked with Poupyrev on other patent applications. It was published in November 2011.

It does show a problem in searching for material: you can't rely on the applicant name being present in US patent applications (if foreign documents are filed then the name will presumably be picked up).

07 March 2012

Voice recognition in Apple's 4G phones

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Apple has been advertising on TV its new 4G phones with users asking questions like "will I need an umbrella tonight" and "where is my brother", where voice recognition (and some clever software to figure out the point of the question and expected answers, presumably) is obviously being used.

Apple has over 50 patent documents involving voice recognition, see this list. I do not know if they are for the software used in the actual phones.

For example, User profiling for voice input processing enables the phone to recognise the user's voice. It explains that it can be used in the dark, or by blind people. The user can preselect words as metadata, perhaps as keys for specific commands. Paragraph 0005 mentions "the electronic device can require significant resources to parse complex instructions", and the point of the invention is to restrict the "library" of words that it will try to interpret to those by the owner of the device to save on memory. The main drawing is given below.

Voice recognition, user profiling patent image

A big problem must be working out what is meant by what, to the software, is simply noise. Apple's Semantic reconstruction patent application explains a method of carrying out linguistic analysis so that what is being asked for can be understood.

Many do not realise how many patent documents there are (I've been asked if I look at each newly published patent): in the related sector of the creation of a thesaurus of terms, there are over 130 results, and these are merely those coded as G06F17/30TGT in the ECLA classification, which omits patent documents published in the Far East. For those countries, the broader G0617/30 class would be used, with words to narrow down the search. Unless of course they had been published in the West. And that means selecting words that have the right meaning, those used in linguistics.

Someone once said to me that patent searching wasn't rocket science. No, it's not -- it's often harder.

14 November 2011

Inventions for 3D measuring for clothing

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The Sunday Times yesterday had an interesting article by Kevin Dowling titled "Virtual tailor sizes you up for buying clothes online." It's about German company UPcload and its invention to enable "trying on" clothes on a 3D image of yourself, which could be used by online retailers.

The article says that customers browsing in a shop are ten times more likely to buy than if they use an online retailer. The aim is to improve those figures. If they are effective and don't take too much time they would certainly remove a big barrier in the trade. Perhaps they would be free to the user, in which case it would add costs for the retailer.

I haven't traced a published patent application by the company, but there are a number of patent specifications for using 3D methods to remotely assess the sizes of people for clothing purposes.

An example is System and method for displaying selected garments on a computer-simulated mannequin which is by now fewer than 12 inventors on behalf of Canadian company My Virtual Model Inc.

Computer simulated mannequin for garments patent image
The subject area is a bit tricky to research but here is a list of mostly relevant patent specifications on the same topic.

UPcload hopes to launch the product in the UK in the summer of 2012 following trials in Germany and a trial, just launched, in the USA with North Face.

07 November 2011

Intrapace's "gastric pacemaker" device

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Intrapace, a Californian company, has been working for years on a "gastric pacemaker", Abiliti®, to help obese people to eat smaller meals.

An implant in the stomach sends messages to the vagus nerve which controls feelings of hunger. When eating occurs the stomach distends and produces hormones and enzymes. The vagus nerve sends a message to the brain to say that these things have occurred. A signal back makes the stomach feel full and the person stops eating. In many obese people this message doesn't get through, and eating continues. 

The device uses a sensor to detect when food enters the stomach. This fact is relayed to a stimulator embedded in the stomach wall close to the vagus nerve. The nerve is excited and feelings of fullness are created.

The clever bit is that there is a timer so that the stimulator is switched off at set mealtimes. There is 20 minutes for breakfast, for example. It does mean a disciplined approach to mealtimes.

Following formal approval for use in Europe, a woman is set to be the first patient to undergo the operation this Wednesday, at Spire Southampton Hospital, a private hospital. Trials in Spain and Germany with 200 people resulted in an average loss of 30% of weight in a year. It is not available at present in the USA. There is more information on the Intrapace company website.

Below is a drawing from the company's Detection of food and drink comsumption in order to control therapy or provide diagnostics World patent application.

Intrapace gastric pacemaker patent drawing
And here is a list of World patent applications by the company in the subject.

Usefully, the implant includes the ability to send information about the patient's diet and exercise habits to a smartphone or a PC for patients or medical staff to use. Perhaps this treatment will replace gastric bands in the future.

26 August 2011

Steve Jobs and his patents for Apple

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Miniature drawing images from all of Steve Jobs' 313 patents for Apple have been very usefully listed by The New York Times.

They are in 12 categories, and clicking on the image leads to the first page of the drawings, and you can click onwards to the other drawings pages. It is more tricky to see the full document: clicking on "U.S. Patent Reference", to the right of the drawings, links to the full text (description and claims) at the official USPTO site, and from there to get to the full document you have to click on Images (at the top). The trouble is, that links to a TIFF file and not a PDF, so you may need to load that software.

It's a pity, as the information provided by the newspaper is otherwise very neat and easy to use if you are interested in Steve Jobs' epic contribution to consumer technology. There is no doubt that he has been the driving force behind Apple's innovation, and, though the look may be slipping a little, he created a cool, we-are-not-a huge-corporation image for the company. A profit in 2010's financial year of ÂŁ14 billion means that they are,actually,indeed huge.

Some of the 313 are in fact "design patents", for the look, rather than "utility patents", for the function. Design patents are preceded by a D in their numeration. In every case, it seems to me, Jobs is one of several or even many named inventors.

Now his sudden resignation for health reasons as CEO has both caused a dip in Apple's share price and a surge of interest in the company. Whither Apple ?

The company takes out numerous design patents, and Media player looks like the original look of the iPod®, while Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics, with its main drawing below, looks signficant for the iPhone®. Increasingly numerous patents are involved in consumer electronics innovation, and it is often impossible to name just one or two as being the key patents for a certain product.

I-phone patent drawing image 

Thanks to a contact at the UK's Intellectual Property Office for drawing my attention to the webpage.

06 July 2011

The Wicab BrainPort: using the tongue to "see"

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The July issue of Saga has an article by Roger Highfield called "Suck it and see" about a device named BrainPort, where placing a "lollipop" on the tongue, linked by wire to a video camera incorporated in dark glasses, enables blind persons to have some ability to "see".

It sounds like science fiction but apparently it works. The article says that the lollipop is a "400-electrode one-inch square sensor array". The tongue is very receptive to sensations. Wicab, who are based in Wisconsin, is the company behind the development, which is based on the research of the late neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita.

This is a video showing the product in use.


The prototype has been tried out with considerable success. After 20 hours of training, 16 blind and 4 sighted but blindfolded persons were able to walk along a 40-foot obstacle course. It has been described as a low-resolution version of normal sight.

So how does it work ? The visual image in pixels translates to transducers applied to the tongue. Operating the lollipop feels like Champagne on the tongue, with white areas of the image creating strong pulses, black areas none, and grey in between. The first Briton to try the BrainPort, Lance Corporal Craig Lundberg, is said in the article to be able to "read words, identify shapes and walk unaided."

I looked of course for a patent specification, and Tactile input system, published in 2005 in the "world" system is clearly relevant.

Only one patent was cited against it as relevant in a later published search report, an American patent published in 1989. I was surprised to find it cited, as while it too uses tactile means, it does so in a different organ and to deal with a different disability: it's Jeffrey McConnell's Method and apparatus for communicating information representative of sound waves to the deaf. The main drawing is shown below.

Using sound waves to help the deaf patent drawing

The Wicab invention has not (yet) been granted rights. In Europe it has been "deemed withdrawn", see the official status entry, which mentions other "prior art". The US PAIRS status database states that the last "action" has been "mail non-final rejection", as of the 25 March 2011. A 11 page document available in that database explains why the examiner objected to the patent claims and the drawings: ask your local patent depository library if you are interested in seeing it.

The Wicab site gives more detail on this promising invention. The company will need permission to begin to market what is still a prototype both in the USA and in Europe.

01 June 2011

Patents for computer software, Peer to Patent

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Today the UK IPO has launched its trial database of Peer to Patent, where anyone can comment on applications for software patents.

Traditionally patent office examiners research the old patents to see if a patent application is genuinely new. Software is a problem here for two reasons: they are often not patentable under existing legislation in Europe, and much "prior art" is not in the patents.

Peer to Patent means that anyone can point out that an idea has been done before. It's the "crowd sourcing" idea that the mass of people will know more than a single individual, as they will have specialist skills and interests.

There are similar projects elsewhere, such as the USA and Australia. The British content differs as it includes the search report by the patent examiner, where X (broadly speaking, done before) and Y (obvious improvements) citations of earlier patents refer to the affected claims within the patent application. This shows what is already known by the IPO.

Anyone interested can comment within 90 days, including commenting on the significance of suggested prior art, after which a report is prepared by the IPO to decide whether or not to grant a patent.

20 applications, which were originally sent in in December 2008, are already on the database and it is anticipated that 10 more will join them every week.

More information, including a blog, is available on the Peer to Patent home page. It sounds like a very interesting project, and I hope that it is considered worthwhile and is continued.

16 March 2011

Google and search engine patents

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Numerous patent specifications have been published in the name of Google covering search engines. An early important one was of course their Node ranking in a linked database, filed in 1997 and by Lawrence Page. This is the basis of their PageRank® algorithm (note the pun on his name) for identifying and sorting the results of searches.

Wikpedia has an interesting article on that algorithm, which states that Stanford University, the applicant on the patent, exclusively licenses it to Google. Their payment was 1.8 million shares in the company, it says, which were sold in 2005 for $336 million.

Many of their patents are in the field of filtering and personalisation of search engine results. This is a list of 46 patent documents published by Google through the "World" system on that topic, as G06F17/30W1F is the ECLA class for that concept.

They include Identifying inadequate search content, the main drawing of which is given below.

Google Identifying inadequate search content patent drawing 
The patent application (since granted in the USA) talks of a statistics search engine, which takes queries made by users; statistics analysis, which divides the queries into topics and provides statistics; the comparator, which identifies topics based on a comparison of the topic statistics and the query statistics; and topic distribution, which notifies users of identified topics.

The idea, apparently, is that if demand for a topic through a search engine exceeds what is actually available on the Web, web publishers are notified and can think about providing that content.