News coverage of unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones, for use in non-military applications is increasing as the FAA moves closer to issuing rules for their use in the United States. It has been reported that the first round of rules will probably be limited to use by emergency responders. Other countries such as Australia are well ahead of the U.S. in the development and deployment of drones for civilian use cases. Concern has been expressed that drones will pose a threat to people on the ground because of factors such as loss of control causing impacts to buildings and other structures, and mid-air collisions causing falling debris. Clearly, this is a valid concern. One company that is addressing this problem is L-3 Unmanned Systems, which was granted Patent 8,700,306 (“Autonomous Collision Avoidance System for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.”) This system does not require human control, making the detection, tracking, and avoidance of aerial hazards an autonomous function of the drone. As you can imagine, this capability will require that highly connected, sensor-laden devices be incorporated into the drone, itself a highly “connected device.” In the background section of the patent, L-3 references the need of such a system to support the forthcoming use of civilian drones in U.S national airspace.

Speech recognition continues to be an active area for patent grants, and in follow up to my report in March, three major companies received grants this week. What is interesting is how non-traditional technology companies are challenging the traditional leaders for speech recognition marketshare. Amazon and Google are emerging as speech-recognition research and development companies, driven by their desire to incorporate speech into devices such as Google Glass, autonomously driven cars and consumer-engagement applications on smartphones. Traditional players in speech recognition engines (the software) have included Nuance, Voxware and Vocollect among others. Significantly, manufacturers of the devices on which voice-application software run have moved to integrate voice software companies, most notably, Honeywell International’s acquisition of Vocollect. Motorola Solutions, now being acquired by Zebra Technologies in a deal valued at $3.5 Billion, has its own voice application for distribution and logistics, a market in which they have a considerable hardware footprint. All of this suggests a blurring of the line between the physical device and the speech recognition engine and applications that sit on the device. Voice-directed applications are becoming ubiquitous both in the B2C and B2B spaces. Google Glass is a good example of this.

Amazon was granted Patent 8,700,392 (“Speech Inclusive Device Interfaces”), which has the distinction of including Jeff Bezos’ name among the individuals associated with the patent. You do not see this often, and signals an important benchmark that the patented technology achieves for the company. One of the benefits for the technology cited in the patent is the reduction of training time for people in jobs where voice direction can be used. There is a surge of interest in the industrial space, particularly logistics, for voice-directed applications. Let’s remember that Amazon is a major owner and operator of distribution centers, for which it was granted this week Patent 8,700,502 (“System and Method of Fulfilling an Order,”) which directly relates to distribution center operations. One must be impressed by the synergy Amazon demonstrates when connecting technology to its real-world processes.

Google was granted Patent 8,700,393 (“Multi-stage Speaker Adaption”) which focuses on one of the two basic forms of speech recognition which are “dependent” and “independent.” Google’s patent improves upon the dependent form. A speaker-dependent system is “one to one,” meaning that the voice of the speaker is mapped and therefore is a unique profile. This form is used in industrial environments where workers (“user”) must be securely identified for specific work processes, and who are independently tracked for user productivity measurements. The speaker-independent form has been mostly used in consumer applications, where such a degree of user control is not required.

Honeywell, which owns Vocollect, was granted Patent 8,700,405 (“Audio System and Method for Coordinating Tasks,”) and the illustration in the patent clearly identifies this as a commercially oriented application, tied to devices worn by the user.

Coming on the heels of the April 1 awards, Visa U.S.A. Inc. was granted Patent 8,700,513 (“Authentication of a Transit Verification Value”) which further defines the art of using contactless payment technology for transit system access. As noted in my previous report, the ability to combine secure contactless payments with rapid-access, low security transit access into one form factor (credit card or smartphone) opens up a significant new market opportunity for payment facilitators like Visa and MasterCard.

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