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Patent Spotlight on Sony: Exercise Support Apparatus for Elderly

Written by Steve Brachmann
Freelance Journalist
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Posted: June 26, 2014 @ 5:08 pm
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The multinational conglomerate known as the Sony Corporation (NYSE: SNE), headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, is one of the world’s leading developers of electronics for applications of all kinds, from business and financial to video gaming. A recent Sony shareholder meeting was the setting for a display of shareholder anger over financial losses during six of the previous seven years, although shareholders voted to retain Kazuo Hirai as the company’s CEO. Shareholders have also been upset about Sony’s reduced development in robotics, although we have information below that strongly suggests otherwise. The corporation has also been making some decisions to improve its positioning in the mobile device market in India.

Sony is a regular feature here on IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, and we see a constant stream of intriguing consumer electronics coming out of the research facilities of this corporate giant. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office handles an amazing amount of patent filings from this company and its subsidiaries. As always, we’re sharing the most interesting technologies expressed in published patent applications and recently issued patents assigned to Sony with our readers.

A device that better provides assistive therapies to elderly or physically handicapped individuals is discussed in today’s featured patent application. This device is more cost-effective and easy to wear than prior exercise support devices designed to assist walking, providing effective response to a wearer’s leg movement. We also noticed a couple of patent applications describing improvements to multiplayer video gaming environments, including one method that improves the ability for an advertiser to reach players through an in-game avatar.

Few companies are issued more U.S. patent grants than Sony, and our recent search rendered up a number of patents which protect some creative upgrades to computing environments. We noticed a number of patents directed at gesture and speech recognition technologies and selected a trio from those to share that improve computer recognition of speech patterns and partial gesture commands. We also discuss a patent protecting a system of home security automation through a mobile electronic device.



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Exercise Support Apparatus and Exercise Support Method
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140148738

Assisted therapy technologies are becoming a bigger focus in response to an increasingly aging population across the world. People continue to enjoy longer life spans, and in Japan the elderly continue to make up a growing part of the population; in 2010, elderly individuals over 65 years of age made up 23.1 percent of that country’s population, and that number is expected to rise to 30 percent by 2025. This places quite a burden on primary care practitioners and other medical professionals who deal with health issues which pertain to the elderly.

Use of mechatronics, or technology which combines electronics and mechanical engineering, has great applications in the field of assistive therapies for elderly patients. The development of these technologies can create medical products which provide an assistive force for older people who need help with hip motion while walking, for example. However, there are many drawbacks to the current state of the technology, which include its effect on a patient’s external appearance, discomfort in wearing devices and high price which drives down the cost-effectiveness of these systems.

The Sony Corporation filed this patent application with the USPTO in September 2013 to protect improvements to exercise support apparati which overcome many of these drawbacks. This upgraded version of an exercise support apparatus consists of a leg rod connected to both the waist and foot of a patient. The device also employs the use of a linear motion actuator, which supports natural movement in users while allowing users to control their own movement.

The slim design of this apparatus allows it to be used by patients without creating a great deal of discomfort or adding unnecessary weight. The apparatus also includes a force sensor and a ground sensor which analyze a wearer’s leg motion and foot positioning, allowing the linear motion actuator to better provide assistive walking therapy responsive to a wearer’s positioning and movement. This device also reduces external signs of a device being worn and costs much less than similar devices.

Claim 1 of this patent application would give Sony the right to protect:

“An exercise support apparatus comprising: a leg rod connected to a waist region and a foot region of a user and including a linear motion actuator; a waist connecting section configured to connect one end of the leg rod to the waist region; and a foot region connecting section configured to connect the other end of the leg rod to the foot region.”

 

Other Patent Applications

One of the Sony Corporation’s major focal areas of development in electronics is video gaming, and the company’s series of PlayStation gaming consoles. The company’s history of creating video game technologies has been a very successful one; Sony’s PlayStation 2 is the best-selling video game console of all time, and three of the top four best-selling consoles are Sony products. In our latest search into Sony’s recently filed patent applications, we noticed a couple that discuss various improvements to the user experience for online multiplayer games. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140162781, which is titled System and Method for Building in Groups, would protect in-game methods of completing a task or building a digital object by soliciting the help of others with the in-game resources or skills to help. This method would allow multiple players to join a project as builders and receive requests for in-game work through online social networks. Methods of displaying advertising content within a game environment for a better player experience would be protected by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140155166, filed under the title Entertainment Device and Method. The system described within this patent application is capable of providing ad content to players through the use of in-game avatars in a way that is designed to replicate natural communication. This system utilizes software-controlled avatars which can be switched to human control if the software cannot adequately respond to a user request.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140155166, titled “Entertainment Device and Method.”

Online data security, especially when it comes to financial transactions, has been an area of much public concern in recent months thanks to security breaches involving major corporations like Target. A system developed to preserve user privacy and anonymity in transactions with online vendors, or e-vendors, is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140149254, which is titled Internet Transaction and User Interface Therefor. The patent application would protect a computer-implemented method of providing an intermediary for facilitating transactions between subscribers and e-vendors so that a subscriber would be able to manage transactions with multiple e-vendors through a single interface. Sony is also responsible for a number of innovations in the field of medical biotechnology, which includes the invention discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140155767, titled Biological Information Measurement Apparatus, Biological Information Measurement System, Biological Information Measurement Method, and Program. This patent application would protect a method of measuring blood pressure in individuals through a pulse wave detection system and an apparatus capable of measuring blood pressure in a low power consumption state for nighttime blood pressure monitoring.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140155767, titled “Biological Information Measurement Apparatus, Biological Information Measurement System, Biological Information Measurement Method, and Program.”

 

Issued Patents of Note

The Sony Corporation invests in research and development along an incredibly diversified field of business operations, supporting one of the world’s strongest intellectual property portfolios. Sony was issued the 4th-most U.S. patent grants from the USPTO among all companies during 2013; its 3,098 patent grants that year trailed only Canon in terms of Japanese corporations. As with our perusal of the company’s patent applications, we’re seeing a number of patents recently issued by the USPTO which are directed at computer-implemented method, or software, patents. The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International throws a bit of uncertainty onto the future of software patents, or perhaps more specifically to previously issued software patents, but only time will tell the real impact. Possibly confusing matters even further, the USPTO has instructed examiners that substantively the patentability assessment has not changed under Alice, which is a pro-patentee interpretation, but perhaps a bit of a strained interpretation. Still, the patents below and many other similar patents remain in the Sony portfolio.

U.S. Patent No. 8756508, titled “Gesture Recognition Apparatus, Gesture Recognition Method and Program.”

Intriguing methods for facilitating interactions between computers and their users through gesture or speech commands are discussed in a trio of patents which we came across recently. A feedback system which ensures the proper identification of a gesture command is protected by U.S. Patent No. 8756508, which is titled Gesture Recognition Apparatus, Gesture Recognition Method and Program. When a user inputs a gesture, the system provides a notification that it detects a user giving a certain command, giving users the ability to adjust an erroneous gesture input if necessary. Improvements to systems of gesture detection are also featured in the recently issued U.S. Patent No. 8750573, issued under the title Hand Gesture Detection. This innovation is designed to overcome several drawbacks in prior hand gesture recognition systems, including slow response time when trying to detect gestures from small hands. Speech recognition systems for analyzing and responding to spoken commands in computing environments are also being protected by Sony, as is evidenced by U.S. Patent No. 8756061, entitled Speech Syllable/Vowel/Phone Boundary Detection Using Auditory Attention Cues. This patent protects a speech recognition system which is better able of detecting speech boundaries for the finer segmentation of speech by syllable or other auditory cues.

From U.S. Patent No. 8751048, titled “Robot Device, Method of Controlling the Same, Computer Program, and Robot System.”

We’ve been seeing a fair amount of robotics technologies expressed in patent filings at the USPTO, and recent profiles of Samsung and Epson show that robotics research is very strong in this region of the globe. Today, we became very interested in a patent issued to the Sony Corporation to protect a kind of robotics comfort technology. U.S. Patent No. 8751048, titled Robot Device, Method of Controlling the Same, Computer Program, and Robot System. This patent protects a robot device that can detect objects from a captured image and rearrange those objects within a room to make the room easier for a person to navigate, or to ensure that a person stays within reach of any important equipment. Finally, we delved into a patent that protects a novel system for the automation of home technologies, U.S. Patent No. 8749375, entitled Hands-Free Home Automation Application. This software application, designed for site security purposes, calculates the distance between a mobile device and a secured site and judges that against a threshold parameter. This would allow a security system to deliver a notification to an owner through the device for any security issue, such as an unlocked or open door, without having to enter an alarm state after an owner has left the premises.

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Posted in: Companies We Follow, Guest Contributors, IP News, IPWatchdog.com Articles, Medical Devices & Methods, Patents, Robotics, Sony, Steve Brachmann, Technology & Innovation, Video Games & Online Gaming

About the Author

Steve Brachmann is a writer located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than five years. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. He also provides website copy and documents for various business clients.

 

 


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