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A Sample of Taxpayer-Funded Inventions from the FedInvent™ Patent Newsletter
The Internet of Cameras
Elegant in its simplicity. Novel in its design.
September 7, 2021 Patent No. 11113344
Sometimes we see an invention and the first reaction is, hasn’t someone done this already? Then a deeper dig reveals that the invention is novel. Then you transition to why didn’t I think of that" mode. Purdue University’s networked camera finder is one of those inventions.
Purdue University received a grant from the Office of Advanced Infrastructure at the National Science Foundation to figure out a way to automatically discover webpages that have camera data anywhere on the internet. That led to US Patent 11113344, Automated Discovery of Network Cameras in Heterogeneous Web Pages." This invention delivers access to the data from thousands of live network cameras to study traffic, weather, human behavior, and security worldwide, visual big data.
The invention crawls the internet looking for the IP address of network cameras and the resource path associated with the data. If they find a camera, they add it to the database. If not, they skip it and keep moving.
Public camera data sources are spread across websites from many organizations making access by the public challenging. To find public data, first, you use a search engine to identify websites that contain network camera data. Universities, regional transportation departments, news stations, and many other organizations in various localities and states have all deployed camera sensor networks. Each of these organizations hosts the data on a different website preventing users from easily accessing all the relevant data at once. Data from network cameras, even cameras deployed across overlapping geographical areas, may be distributed across different websites. The invention automatically indexes the data from these sites and creates a central live network camera data database.
The National Science Foundation funded this research.
Read the FedInvent Patent Newsletter for September 7, 2021: The Internet of Cameras — 9/07/2021".
Obvious in the Sky
Is A Touchscreen Novel in 2021?
September 7, 2021 Patent No. 11111031
When a turbo-scientific patent like this week’s battery technology patent from Apple (11114663) shows up or new patents with extensive organic chemistry and gene sequences show up, we ask for an explainer from the experts. Not on this one.
This week Rockwell Collins received US patent 11111031 for Flight Control Management Using Touchscreen Interfaces. This patent cites funding originating from the US Air Force KC-135 Avionics contract.
Usually, we spare you the patent geekery, but we're perplexed, so here we go. Here is the abstract for this avionics touchscreen invention:
A touchscreen fuel panel. In embodiments, the fuel panel includes a touchscreen display and a controller coupled to the touchscreen display. The controller is configured to generate a graphical user interface at the touchscreen display and receive user inputs via the touchscreen display. In embodiments, the graphical user interface includes a pump menu with at least one selectable icon for a set of engine boost pumps and a plurality of individually selectable icons for forward, center, and aft pumps. The controller is configured to receive a user input representing a user interaction with the graphical user interface (e.g., an icon selection) via the touchscreen display. The controller is further configured to generate one or more control signals for the set of engine boost pumps, at least one forward pump, at least one center pump, or at least one aft pump based on the user input.
The core aspects of the invention are a touch screen coupled with a controller and a graphical user interface with a bunch of icons. It has icons for each of the engine boost fuel pumps, front, center, and aft.
We wanted to make sure we understood the timeframe for this invention. This patent has a provisional patent application — App. No. 62/767,397 filed on November 14, 2018. The non-provisional was filed October 3, 2019, and the patent was granted yesterday. So their priority date is about November 2018. (We leave the gory details of the exact priority date to the patent attorneys.)
Eric Johnson invented the first touchpad in 1965. The application of touch technology for air traffic control was described in an article published in 1968. On March 7, 2021, Apple introduced the iPad. So touchscreens weren't novel at that point.
This invention also supports:
- Icons for each component.
- Visual indicators that one of the components has a fault.
- Render the component with a fault in color.Use colors to indicate what's going on. The patent says it uses — a first color (such as green) when refueling, a second color (such as blue) when draining, and a third color (such as magenta) when fuel is directed to the engine.
- Gloves might be required in certain circumstances to enable the user to use the touchscreen.
(You mean like those gloves you buy at Costco so you can use your smartphone touch screen in the winter? Probably not. Probably expensive aircrew gloves.)
There's no argument that a touchscreen might be a nice improvement of the current electronics. But touchscreen controls are not new, and they've replaced other avionics and flight management controls before. Just Google "Rockwell Collins flight deck automation touchscreen." You'll get plenty of vintage 2013 and 2015 videos on Rockwell's touch-control flight display systems. (None of what you'll find is part of the prior art cited on the patent.)But this patent is carefully crafted. The independent claims deal with an avionics system interface or
an aircraft fuel management system, specifically with engine boost pumps. So the patent examiner had to ask the question, ""Has anyone ever used a touchscreen with icons and colors indicating what's going on for managing engine boost pumps before?"" So there you go, patent.
If you're a UI/UX designer — user interface/user experience — this seems pretty obvious to you. However, if you are writing the interface to those boost pumps, this may be non-obvious to you or at least non-obvious enough to score a patent.
Read the FedInvent Patent Newsletter for Internet of Cameras — September 7, 2021.
There Ought To Be a Law
Easier Said Than Done
August 31, 2021 Patent No. 11111031
The FedInvent team has been digging through the bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the Senate. All 2,702 pages of it. We’re looking at the new research initiatives directly identified in the bill. There are also infrastructure-related science and technology policies that will require new R&D initiatives to deliver the mandated provisions in the bill. One of the obvious places where there is lots of spending is on transportation. The word vehicle appears in the bill over 750 times.
The transportation-specific mandates include the network of chargers for electric vehicles. There is a lot of road work. The Department of Transportation is funding research to assess the structural integrity and crashworthiness of limousines. One of the issues in the limousine research will evaluate the ""perimeter seating"" configuration in light of airbags, seatbelts, and other passenger protective devices. The perimeter limousine seating is the fun part of riding in a limousine on prom night. Front-facing seats are for the carpool.
One of the vehicle-related provisions in the bill is for Advanced Drunk and Impaired Driving Prevention Technology. The bill declares that the estimated economic cost for alcohol- impaired driving in 2010 was $44,000,000,000. That's $44B. Congress always includes all the zeros. Over 10,000 people are killed in drunk driving-related accidents each year.
The bill calls for the Department of Transportation's National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to advise the Secretary of Transportation on regulations for implementing this technology in new cars within three years of the date of the bill. That puts the regulatory aspects on the calendar for 2024. NHTSA has ten years after the bill is signed to get this done or explain to Congress why not. The only chance for this technology to be widely installed in new cars is if Congress passes the law.
The Advanced Drunk and Impaired Driving Prevention Technology mandate identifies three approaches for delivering the capability. The first is technology that passively monitors your driving to determine if they are impaired. (Bobbing and weaving?) The second option is in- vehicle to determine if the driver's blood-alcohol level is 0.08 percent or greater. This technology ""passively and accurately"" determines the driver's breath is above the legal limit. If so, it will disable the vehicle and prevent it from being driven. The third option is to provide a combination of both capabilities.
Among this week’s taxpayer-funded patents is 11104227, ""SENSOR SYSTEM FOR PASSIVE IN- VEHICLE BREATH ALCOHOL ESTIMATION,"" The invention is for a passive alcohol sensor system installed in the car that uses a fan to draw an air sample into a sensor to determine if the driver has an alcohol level above the legal limit. If the driver exceeds the threshold set on the sensor, it prevents the car from moving. The full implementation is much more complicated. The work was funded by NTHSA.
The patented invention requires two types of tests — a passive test as discussed above and an active test that is needed when conditions in the vehicle make the passive test unusable. The active test requires the driver to blow directly into the alcohol sensor. The active test may be required when ""environmental conditions within the vehicle may not allow accurate Breath Alcohol Concentration (BrAC) measurement. These conditions may include high wind from open windows or high temperatures after the vehicle has been standing closed in hot weather. The invention notes that ""The HVAC system is preferably turned OFF or in a normal operating condition during the process. ...If the temperature is outside a normal temperature range, the method or processor determines that the set of testing conditions is outside of the normal range."" Back to the active test. So if you get into your hot car in Arizona or Florida, you'll need to do the active test. Then there's the matter of the windshield wiper fluid. Windshield washer uid contains ... alcohol. And the smartphone applications that let you start your car to warm it up on cold days. Will that be disabled as well?
Hand sanitizer has caused breathalyzer results to give falsely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) readings. In the time of COVID, everyone is using hand sanitizer with high alcohol content. So if you take advantage of the hand sanitizer that now sits on the counter by every cash register in America, you may not be able to start your car?
Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, Inc. (ACTS) is the assignee on this patent. ACTS is a nonprofit corporation funded by motor vehicle manufacturers and the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2008, ACTS established a public-private partnership with the NHTSA to research and develop vehicle- integrated technologies to prevent drunk driving. The program is known as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Program (DADSS). Since 2008, ACTS has received at least $34.5 million from NHTSA and another $50 million from 16 of its vehicle manufacturer member. The funding referenced on the patent covers the first $5 million. You can see the details on the rest of the federal funding at USA Spending here.
Easier Said Than Done
Getting in-vehicle alcohol sensors from test cars and into new cars will require many issues to be resolved. Treating every driver like an irresponsible driver is one of them. In 2019, there were almost 229 million licensed drivers in the United States. This technology assumes 229 million people are committing a crime every time they start their car. Breathalyzer technology is associated with drivers convicted of DUI.
It's also unclear if auto manufacturers wanted to be viewed as spying on their customers even though they helped fund the research. Installing these devices in rental cars poses the same problem. Driver's don't want their car rental company spying on them either.
There are the Big Brother aspects of this invention. Documents on the current DADSS testing note, ""Data is being collected from the DADSS alcohol sensors as well as from breath-alcohol reference sensors. Instrumentation also has been installed to track environmental conditions, vehicle system data, and test participant video. The data are uploaded via 4G and WIFI and stored in the cloud."" These are always on sensors that continuously collect data about the driver and the environment in the vehicle. Once the in-vehicle alcohol sensors are in new cars will this tracking capability be turned on? Will the data be shared with your insurance company? Then add the privacy issues and the government's purchase of location data. Will data about a driver's location be stored with the sensor data. There are so many privacy issues here; it's head exploding.
NHTSA says, "the DADSS technology, if proven to be reliable and reproducible under diverse environmental and biological conditions, would represent a significant technological breakthrough in crash avoidance and a significant advance in driver monitoring technologies in vehicles."
This technology will go nowhere unless there is a legal mandate to install it. The Infrastructure Bill may be that legislation. There is the matter of the technology being passive and accurate. There’s still work to do on that one. The industry has time. And then there are the 229+ million drivers. It remains to be seen how 229 million drivers will feel about proving they aren’t breaking the law every time they start their car.
Read the FedInvent Patent Newsletter for Into Thin Air Only Dust — August 31, 2021.
A Smart Week — Smart Cities
New Lights in Time Square
August 19, 2021 Patent No. 11086121
Green technology inventions come from unusual places. This Tuesday, Solchroma Technologies, Inc. received 11086121, Display techniques incorporating fluidic actuators and related systems and methods." This is an invention for large-scale displays that produces a vivid, dynamic, and reflective display that does not require an internal light source and consumes only 1% of the energy of existing LED-based digital signage. Uses very little energy in direct sunlight. Zero light pollution is emitted in the daytime or at night and eliminates the 'Times Square' or 'Las Vegas' look normally associated with LED displays, often at the heart of signage permitting issues.
Solchroma Technologies invented a proprietary system of actuators, configured as hydraulic pumps, that move colored ink from reservoirs behind a pixel surface into separate, viewable color filter chambers. Ambient light is selectively absorbed through layered CMY color filters and reflected back to the viewer, where greyscale is achieved by varying the amount of CMY ink in view.
The patent says, "Passive displays, also called reflective displays, can use external ambient light as a light source and therefore can be capable of utilizing less power compared to the internal bulbs or LEDs of emissive displays. …The primary use of power is in writing new information to a pixel of the display."
Up to 10% of US zoning codes are estimated to prohibit LED-based (light- emitting diode) signage. It is expected that these areas may permit new reflective digital signage technology. If this is the case it would expand the domestic market for large-scale outdoor signage to $5.6 billion. This technology has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with powering signs. It is expected to be an alternative to LED- based technology resulting in a 40x reduction in energy consumption relative to LED signs. Replacing printed signage will also reduce billboard wrap waste.
Read the FedInvent Patent Newsletter for August 11, 2021: A Smart Week — August 11, 2021.
NASA's Smart Smart Contracts
New Lights in Time Square
July 13, 2021 Patent No. 11086121
If you are an ETH HODLer or own CryptoPunk NFT or just wonder when someone was going to invent a serious DAPP (Distributed Application) using blockchain technology, NASA has a patent for you — 11063759, Blockchain-empowered crowdsourced computing system has it all. They invented a blockchain-ba sed machine learning application that enables any device that can run a smart contract to execute machine learning compute tasks. The invention uses the Ethereum blockchain and its smart contract to secure the peer-to-peer transactions between the multiple untrustworthy parties to enable autonomous decentralized and cooperative deep learning. The invention also uses homomorphic encryption, a form of encryption that permits users to perform computations on its encrypted data without first decrypting it.
When you read the description of the invention you’ll nd a totally buzzword-compliant list of essential blockchain and smart contract features.
The smart contract can run on anything that can run an Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). Ethereum virtual machine is Turing-complete. That means it should be able to solve any computation problem. The code it runs has no access to other processes on your computer. A highly desirable feature. EVM can run on just about anything.
The patent notes, "the hierarchical structure is employed with low-computation power devices such as cell phones, tablets, drones, other networkable devices such as networked sensors, cameras, small appliances and virtually any device capable of sharing data or both computing and sharing data via a network. The ability to harness cell phone data and computational capabilities, while maintaining privacy through the system here proposed, could be very promising in developing machine learning models for the protection of infrastructure, public safety, forecasting of natural disasters, and various medical applications."
MOVING ON FROM THE CLOUD
The inventors make a point of highlighting the shortcomings of The Cloud. ""In many instances, these challenges are addressed by relying on an outsourced cloud computing vendor. However, although these commercial cloud vendors provide valuable platforms for data analytics, they can suer from a lack of transparency, security, and privacy preservation. Furthermore, reliance on cloud servers prevents applying big data analytics in environments where the computing power is scattered. Therefore, more effective computing paradigms are required to process private and/or scattered data in suitable decentralized ways for machine learning."" This paradigm is designed by exploring blockchain, decentralized learning, homomorphic encryption, and software-defined networking (SDN) techniques. Here is a link to the research paper that describes how this invention works without all the patent-speak.
The Senate added distributed ledger technology (aka blockchain) to its list of critical 21st- century technologies for American competitiveness.Read the FedInvent Newsletter A Smart Week — July 13, 2021.
DRONES AND SHAPE SHIFTING C-4
July 6, 2021 Patent No. 11054224
The Department of Defense (DOD) and the Air Force mean business when dealing with national security threats in the sky. Their latest invention is 11,054,224, System for physically capturing and signal-defeating unmanned aerial vehicles.
The invention is, "a system for defeating a threat unmanned aerial vehicle that includes a friendly unmanned aerial vehicle and a containment system. The containment system is deployable from the friendly unmanned aerial vehicle and includes a signal blocking enclosure and a capturing device. The signal blocking enclosure is formed of a conductive material for shielding radio frequency signals from propagating in or out of the signal blocking enclosure. The capturing device is configured for arresting the threat unmanned aerial vehicle and positioning an arrested threat unmanned aerial vehicle within the signal blocking enclosure."
It works like this, the drone operator chases a threat drown. It traps that drone in an enclosure on the friendly drone. Then it blocks the threat drones signaling capability. The friendly drone then ies it back to a friendly location where it releases the threat drone and heads back out for another enemy drone capturing encounter. Very cleaver.
The Background of the Invention says, "...the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) commonly use home-modified and commercial, o-the-shelf UASs (typically Group 1 UAVs) to monitor troop movements and for propaganda purposes in the Middle East. More recently, there has been a push by ISIS to weaponize these systems to cause direct harm and loss of life to allied forces." DOD has had enough of these drones getting in their way.
DOD has limited who can have the drone catcher. The patent says, "The invention described herein may be manufactured, used, and licensed by or for the U.S. Government."
FedInvent encourages DOD to engage in conversations with the FAA to help them develop the capability to capture the knucklehead drones that y over US airports. The five federal agencies that are responsible for wildfire management, USDA's Forest Service and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service might also be a good target market for getting drones out of the way in restricted spaces near wildfires. (Can the drone catcher handle the heat?)
Read the FedInvent Patent Newsletter for July 6, 2021: DRONES AND SHAPE SHIFTING C-4.
MAGNETIC PEST CONTROL
Granted January 5, 2021 10881093
The cicadas have arrived in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Dead ones were found on the driveway this morning. We’ve been thinking about pest control. There isn’t much you can do about the arrival of the cicadas but there are a host of other pests that warrant new and improved methods to control them.
…a method that is essentially designed to “feed the bad bugs metal so they stick to a magnet. Jacques Bertrand, a research scientist at the Jacksonville, Florida-based Navy Entomology Center of Excellence, devised the method, which has been several years in the making."
US Patent 10881093 — Ferromagnetic pest trap was invented by Jacques Bertrand a scientist at the US Navy. The work was done at the Navy Entomology Center of Excellence (NECE), the only Department of Defense (DoD) activity dedicated to worldwide operational entomology support to include development and evaluation of novel products and insecticide application technologies to better protect deployed forces from insects and other arthropods (vectors) that transmit human disease. (DOD doesn’t like bugs — terrestrial or electronic either.)
The invention protects methods of trapping a pest, enticing the pests to eat ferromagnetic particles, and then trapping the pest using one or more magnets… "wherein a trapped pest has ingested and internally accumulated an amount of the ferromagnetic particles sufficient to permit immobilization of the pest using said one or more magnets."