The last day of 2013 is now upon us, and as we look ahead towards another year which is sure to be full of intriguing new technologies, we also want to take a look back and remember a few of IPWatchdog’s favorite innovations from the past twelve months. All year, our Companies We Follow series has diligently scoured the issued patents and patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. We’ve profiled numerous inventions from corporations like Apple, IBM, General Electric, Sony, Samsung, Google, Siemens, Qualcomm and many more of the largest corporations in the world. We have also looked at universities, like the University of California, and we have done special edition articles that focused on Green Tech as part of our Earth Day 2013 mini-series and the future of Blackberry.
With other publications weighing in on their top picks for 2013 inventions, we wanted to take some time to discuss some of the best innovations we spotted during the past year. With that in mind we went through the aforementioned Companies We Follow series to pick some of the year’s best. This year, we’re taking a look at both issued patents as well as patent applications in a single article. While some of what follows may not be protected yet, they indicate a manufacturer’s research and development goals.
Using no other criteria than my own, this list of the Top 10 Innovations of 2013, which may include a surprise or sentimental choice here and there, shows some technologies that will likely become ubiquitous in time. Especially social media and networking innovations, as well as a couple of inventions that are meant to improve well-being and sustainability among human beings, likely have real staying power. From multi-user touchscreens to self-healing electrical grids to a robotic system, here’s what I found to be some of this most interesting inventions we stumbled across this year.
10. Targeting Customers Who Invite Other Customers to a Business
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130066696
We’ve seen a lot of innovations from corporations this year who are trying to take advantage of the social networks of their customers. Device manufacturers like Apple, Google and others are aware of the power of leveraging a user’s social contacts for marketing purposes. Retail stores, restaurants and many other businesses are always interested in harnessing a potential customer’s social base, which may include a friend that frequents the establishment.
In March of this year, the USPTO published this patent application filed by Google Inc. of Mountain View, CA. It describes a fairly unique system of leveraging contacts of a device owner who has checked into a business establishment through a social network in a way that’s beneficial to the customer. If a contact on the checked in user’s social network visits the business within a predetermined window of time, that business could send a message to the checked in user that includes a coupon.
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9. Touch Discrimination
U.S. Patent No. 8432366
Improvements to user interface experiences for users of electronic devices have been a target area for a number of innovators during the 2013 year. Gaze and gesture perception technologies have been developed by companies to allow users to interact with touchscreen devices in some cases without ever once touching the screen. Enabling easier device responsiveness as a result of user stimuli is a major focus of device manufacturers in recent months.
In late April of this year, the USPTO issued a patent to the Microsoft Corporation of Redmond, WA, to protect a touchscreen technology that provides some intriguing possibilities for complex touchscreen computing systems in the near future. This patent protects a system that can process touch inputs from multiple users situated around a touchscreen, using environmental and biometric information on different users’ touch to differentiate between users. The patent description states that this system could be used in a surface computing environment that could be made available at many types of retail businesses.
8. Apparatus and Method for Sharing User’s Emotion
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130144937
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are such an ubiquitous presence in our world that it’s tough to remember that these innovations are, in many cases, less than a decade old. As we continue to encounter these networks and our contacts within them, researchers are gaining ever more information on how humans experience their social network. For example, users who post an emotional status may trigger interactions with others that can be positively or negatively charged, based on the responses received.
This patent application was published by the USPTO in early June 2013 and assigned to Samsong Electronics Co., headquartered in the Korean city of Suwon. This application describes a system that would mitigate negative responses to social network posts by taking a measure of a user’s emotion rate, which determines the negativity or positivity of a user based on past actions. Along with reducing negative interactions, this system could also increase positive responses by increasing the chances that someone with a positive emotion rate views the post.
7. Human-Machine Collaborative Robotic Systems
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130218340
At various points throughout the year, we’ve featured innovations from organizations outside of the typical corporate heavyweights that IPWatchdog usually focuses on in our Companies We Follow series. Academic research institutions and universities are a great source of interesting innovations, especially in the medical fields. During 2013, we’ve seen patent applications and issued patents assigned to universities dealing with cancer treatments, disease management and bioadhesives for wound healing.
The Johns Hopkins University filed this patent application with the USPTO, published in August of this year, to protect a system of better incorporating human input in surgical robot machines. Surgical robots have improved greatly in dexterity and complexity, but previous systems were poor at providing natural collaboration with a human operator. This surgical robot would be able to complete steps automatically, but operators can interact with a sensor-actuator which turns the robot over to manual control.
6. Self-Healing Power Grid and Method Thereof
U.S. Patent No. 8504214
Smarter electrical systems are being developed by various manufacturers involved in engineering electrical systems at the building or grid level. Some of these innovations deal with the efficient use of electrical energy, including some that describe systems of drawing energy to a building from a grid in a way that takes peak demand hours into account, developing more cost-effective energy systems. These developments have the capability to greatly alter energy use as we experience it on a daily basis.
The USPTO issued this patent to the General Electric Company of Niskayuna, NY, in August 2013 to protect a self-healing electrical grid that can keep small malfunctions from causing major grid outages. A grid monitoring system judges the infectiousness rate of the components making up the grid, which is a measure of the probability of a single component breaking down and creating an excessive load on neighboring components. If the infectiousness rate passes a certain threshold, the grid can adjust the operating capacity of the components to prevent larger grid problems from developing.
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5. Method for Personalizing an Appliance User Interface
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130283183
This innovation, developed by the Whirlpool Corporation of Benton Harbor, MI, synthesizes a few interesting technologies we’ve seen applied to consumer products this year. Many corporations have been creating computing systems for devices, gaming consoles and appliances that can determine the identity of a user based on camera images analyzed for biometric data. In the home appliance world, there’s also been a push to digitize control settings for refrigerators, dishwashers and more that are much easier to adjust than traditional knob controls.
Filed in May of this year with the USPTO and published in October, this patent application describes a system of controlling an appliance through an interface, with biometric data of an individual user analyzed by a camera. Identifying different users in this way allows for an appliance control interface that can be personalized based on the type of settings the user is likely to select.
4. Recyclable Cardboard Bicycle
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130076002
At different times throughout the year, we’ve focused on various green and environmentally friendly technologies being invented by large corporations and solo inventors alike. Whenever discussing these innovations, major issues typically stem from the cost and difficulty of implementing these changes. For example, even as solar panel technology becomes slightly more cost-effective, the difficulty of installing a system keeps many from deciding to invest in one. Similarly, fuel alternatives to gasoline and other fossil fuels are known, but aren’t largely implemented because of high costs.
This patent application, filed by solo inventor Izhar Gafni of the Hefer Valley region of Israel, is seeking to protect a method of creating a bicycle that is durable, supports up to 200 kilograms (kgs) of weight and is constructed entirely of fully recyclable cardboard. If broken or rendered inoperable, the bicycle could be mixed with water to create a slurry, dried and formed into a new bike using the manufacturing process. The bicycle itself weighs about 7 kilograms, or about 15.5 pounds.
Who knows whether this is commercially feasible, but there is something about this invention that really captures the spirit of the inventor, particularly the independent inventor. Inventors observe problems and create solutions, and while not every solution may lead to a paradigm shifting invention, or even be a winner in the marketplace, the creativity and dedication that this innovation represents speaks to what is right with the patent system.
3. Foreclosure Prevention and Protection
U.S. Patent No. 8577792
We’re focusing heavily on technological innovations in this list of 2013’s Top 10 Innovations, but we’ve seen some interesting developments in many other sectors. As we mentioned above, our look at university research this year showed us some intriguing new medical treatments. In our quick look at a variety of financial innovations from the Bank of America Corporation of Charlotte, NC, we saw descriptions of a gift card credit exchange system, a new financial insurance product for hitting personal and professional goals, as well as a few interesting safeguards for those with debt who are in precarious financial situations.
The USPTO issued this patent to the Bank of America in early November of this year to protect a system of debt instruments to be used when a secured party decides to take possession of their collateral property because of non-payment. This system could provide protections against non-payment to an indebted party if it deems that an event has occurred which is covered by this foreclosure protection system. These types of covered events include unforeseen incidents, like hospitalization, accidental death or involuntary unemployment.
2. Infectious Disease Detection
U.S. Pat. App. No. 20130130227
In an increasingly global world, air travel takes center stage as the major mode of transportation for business professionals and tourists alike. About 746 million people traveled on airlines based in the United States alone during 2013, according to this press release from the Federal Aviation Administration. One of the great concerns of air travel is the ability for infectious disease to travel halfway around the world within hours, reaching a massive population where an outbreak could be disastrous.
This patent application, filed with the USPTO by The Boeing Company of Chicago, IL, would protect a system capable of determining whether a contagious disease is present in an area of an airport. The system uses various sensors that can detect contagion levels of a disease and alert a management system if those levels indicate that a severely infectious disease is present. This system could be used to detect the presence of tuberculosis, the Ebola virus, influenza or a variety of other contagions that can be detected through the presence of bacteria, a virus or other particulate.
1. Devices and Methods for Transferring Data Through a Human Body
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130142363
All year long, we’ve seen a clear trend of companies developing devices with a focus on ever more enhanced user interfaces. Even while computing devices have become smaller and portable, the power of these products allows for ever more immersive experiences. Wearable devices, such as the much-hyped Google Glass, are being touted as the next major development from device manufacturers. With all of this contact between electronic devices and their human users, one innovation especially caught our eyes which blurs the distinction between man and digital machine.
This patent application, filed by AT&T Intellectual Property of Atlanta, GA, describes a method of sending data signals securely between devices when a physical connection is made between both devices through a human body. The data signal is transmitted between the devices using bone and skin conduction of the signal. The signal travels to a contact microphone, where it can be determined as an individual signal apart from any electronic signature the body may be creating by itself.