Technology plays a huge role in modern life, and the rapid progression of technology shows no signs of slowing down. Every year, thousands of patents are awarded to individuals or acquired by corporations in the hopes that these innovations give them an edge over modern tech. In 2019 alone, IBM held the top spot for patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with 9,262 in total.
It's an exciting time to be a budding inventor, with corporate giants like Google, Apple, and IBM constantly on the look-out for the next innovation. Below are some of the most interesting and exciting recent patents, which could shape the future of technology as we know it. Keep in mind, however, that holding a patent does not necessarily mean the idea will ever see production.
1. Google's social media comic strips: A new way to update your status
In less than a decade, social media has become increasingly more visual than textual. Platforms like Instagram and Snapchat continue to surge in popularity, as users migrate from more text-based platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
With this trend in mind, Google was awarded a patent in 2013 for an app that would allow users to create a comic strip of their daily activities. Invented by Satish Kumar, the app offers various themes and the ability to add panels and text.
Though the app has yet to hit the market, it would be an interesting addition to the current array of image-based social networks.
2. Apple's self-deploying screen protector: Never crack your screen again!
Stephen Lynch, Tyson Manullang, and Emery Stanford filed the patent for this screen-saving technology in 2014. The proposed tech would include a sensor, which would deploy a cover when it sensed the phone or tablet had fallen, thus protecting the screen from the fall.
The proposed design also includes shock absorbers and modular protectors that could easily fold in and out of the device. Though not currently in development, this invention could be a blessing for a lot of clumsy Apple users.
3. Ford's seats for self-driving cars: Sit back and enjoy the ride
Self-driving cars are already a reality, and will no doubt become increasingly common over the next couple of years. With that in mind, it only makes sense that automotive giants like Ford are developing a wide range of self-driving technologies.
Ford already unveiled their plans for a smart city earlier this year, which would include sophisticated smart vehicles. A patent, filed by Mark Cuddihy, Manoharprasad Rao, and Jialiang Le in 2016, outlines Ford's vision of front seats that can be easily moved backward.
This would allow passengers to enjoy the ride, as their self-driving car brings them to their destination. Whether or not this suggests the arrival of a Ford vehicle that can be both manually driven and self-driving remains to be seen, but seats like these are sure to become a feature of many vehicles shortly.
4. NASA's weather predictor: Warning against earthquakes and other natural disasters
Earthquakes kill and injure many people worldwide while also causing millions of dollars worth of damage annually. Luckily, this 2016 patent owned by NASA hopes to better predict tectonic activities and other catastrophic weather conditions.
The proposed device, invented by John Sutton and Qamar Shams, measures small fluctuations in the ambient magnetic field. This allows the device to pick up on the electromagnetic activity preceding an earthquake or major storm. Technology like this could have applications in meteorology and navigation.
5. Nike's golf glasses: Up your game with a futuristic display
Golf is set to get a 21st Century upgrade, thanks to Nike's acquisition of a patent for a wearable golf aid device. It was patented by Nicholas Leech in 2016, and it could be a game-changer for fans and players alike.
The invention includes a ball-tracking system and a processor that can compute multiple outcomes of your swing. All of the information is visible through a heads-up display, bringing a new technological element into the classic game.
6. Amazon's super drone: The future of online deliveries
Amazon has toyed with using drone technology for deliveries for some time now, but its latest acquisition could change everything. It recently acquired the patent for a modular super drone that could potentially carry bigger weight payloads.
The invention is the brainchild of Michael Paczan, Michael Elzinga, Raphael Hsieh, and Luan Nguyen. It would operate as a swarm of inter-connected drones that can disconnect and disperse to various locations to make the delivery.
And as a collective, the drones are more efficient and capable of transporting greater loads than just one singular, powerful drone.
7. Walmart's robotic bees: A step forward for agriculture
Though many might feel apprehensive about the prospect of robotic bees thanks to a certain Black Mirror episode, the potential benefits of this technology are too good to pass up. With that in mind, Walmart recently filed a patent for its pollination drones.
The proposed design includes cameras that would allow the bees to identify crops, and would then allow them to pollinate the same way real bees do. With declining bee populations proving to be a worrying issue worldwide, robotic bees like these could be a huge advantage to the agricultural industry.
8. Airbus' 3D-printed plane: Changing how we build aircraft
3D printing technology has proved to be one of the most significant breakthroughs of the 21st Century, it is already changing a host of industries and. Airbus has recently acquired a patent that would allow them to utilize 3D printing in the construction of aircraft.
Invented by Hermann Benthien and Matthias Hegenbart, the 2015 patent outlines a method of 3D printing that would allow the technique to be used for the creation of wings and a fuselage, among other applications. This could drastically decrease the cost of both the production and shipping of aircraft components.
9. Boeing's firefighting bomb: A new way to stop forest fires
Forest fires are a huge concern across multiple nations with hot, dry climates. Every year fires like these scorch land and homes and threatening residents and wildlife.
Boeing was granted a patent in 2017 for an artillery shell that could combat the spread of forest fires more effectively when compared to that of traditional aircraft efforts. The shell would be fired from a gun and would release fire-retardant materials upon impact.
10. IBM's futuristic comfort wear: Clothes that adapt to you and your surroundings
At the end of 2017, tech giant IBM acquired the patent to a form of smart wear that could adapt itself for optimum comfort. Created by Aaron Baughman, Arun Joseph, Brian O'Connell, and Diwesh Pandey, the proposed textiles could have incredible applications.
The patented fabric features a set of sensors, which feed into an in-built computing device. This device will analyze all data, from the heart rate of the wearer to external weather conditions, and configure the optimum comfort conditions.
This would allow the garment to become warm in cold weather, and vice versa.
11. The US Navy's seawater jet fuel: Fuelling aircrafts off-shore
Clean fuels and bio-fuels are certainly not new, but they've yet to become the go-to option for commercial or military vehicles. A 2016 patent granted to the United States Navy seeks to create sustainable jet fuel from seawater.
The patent outlines a process whereby seawater is placed in an ion exchange to acidify the water and extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen. This further allows the production of hydrocarbon fuel, which could be processed offshore.
With this in mind, aircraft carriers could eventually use seawater for refueling efforts, instead of needing to carry fuel with them out to sea.
12. Disney's interactive eBook: Storytelling for the digital age
In 2016, Disney filed a patent for an interactive eBook, which incorporated wireless technologies and traditional printing. The book is intended to be used in tandem with mobile devices and presents an interesting development in electronic books.
Outlined in the patent is the concept of a smart book that allows the reader to interact with the media through touch. Each page would contain an interactive element, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story through the book itself and corresponding media being played on their mobile device.
13. AT&T's smart Lego: The new generation of building blocks
Though more widely known for telecommunications, AT&T have emerged as a contender in the world of digital toys, thanks to their 2016 patent for smart 3D building blocks. The blocks, created by Kevin Li, would operate on a surface computer and are capable of generating structural blueprints.
The blocks are more than child's play. They could be applied by engineers and architects, as the technology allows for the display of interior structural designs as well as exterior.
14. Microsoft's data reef: An environmentally-conscious underwater data center
Microsoft may be planning on taking some of their data centers underwater, with their 2016 patent for an artificial reef. If this sounds fishy, don't worry — they also pre-emptively patented a security system to protect against any underwater tampering with the center.
The patent outlines that the device would be submerged and anchored along the seabed, in a sufficiently deep body of water. It is designed to emit warmth and nutrients that would attract marine life, and hopefully cultivate a thriving reef.
15. Samsung's surgical robot: Cutting edge healthcare technology
Although surgical robots already exist, Samsung's 2015 patent presents a step forward for the burgeoning medical technology. Invented by Kyung Won Moon and Tae Sin Ha, Samsung's electronic surgeon would boast greater mobility and articulation than pre-existing robots.
The design features an endoscopic camera and could be operated remotely from a master device. This could be a major step forward in safe, remote surgeries.
Did you know that two years ago Microsoft open sourced 60,000 patents to help end the Linux patent wars?