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This article was published on May 2, 2016

This week in patents: An army of drones, heartbroken spaceships, and more

This week in patents: An army of drones, heartbroken spaceships, and more
Deepak Gupta
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Deepak Gupta

Deepak is the founder of patent services firm PatentYogi, a new kind of patent services firm that simplifies the patent process for the inve Deepak is the founder of patent services firm PatentYogi, a new kind of patent services firm that simplifies the patent process for the inventors across the globe. They provide free patentability search service for individual inventors and startups. He also runs a YouTube channel, PatentYogi, where he publishes videos on patents. For interesting daily updates on patents, check their Instagram and Facebook.

Last week, the US patent office issued 6,782 patents. Each patent adds a little something new to the human knowledge base.

As we cannot list all six thousand, the PatentYogi team has selected the six most interesting ones.

US Navy to raise an army of ocean drones

Patent number: US 9,321,529

This patent from US navy gives a peek into the future of oceanic warfare. Given the vast oceanic space, an army of drones would be deployed to operate collectively go achieve a mission.

The drones would include energy conversion means to tap into natural sources of energy like solar and wind energy. This may charge a battery on board that powers the propellers for motion over the water surface or in air.

These drones would be equipped with sensors that can detect and track submarines, missiles etc. and report back to command stations. They would be capable of tracking under water objects while themselves being in flight. That’s a huge advantage since they can establish highly reliable communication with the command center while in flight.

While such an army of Drones clearly has most impactful application in war, it is also touted to be useful to track marine life like whales and dolphins.

Ford’s unique airbag for rear seats

Patent number: US 9,321,423

The patented rear seat airbag is a substantially `U` shape to encompass both the front and rear sides of rear seat occupants when the rear seat airbag is deployed. The rear airbag is stored within a ceiling lining above a rear passenger cabin section.

The airbag deployment system gathers vehicle state information, analyzes the vehicle state information, determines whether to deploy one or more airbags, and then controls the deployment of the rear airbag.

NASA spacecrafts can now sense pain

Patent number: US 20160114911

Drawing inspiration from living beings, NASA intends to put “pain” receptors throughout in the outer shell of spacecrafts. The result: the space crafts exterior turns into a living skin capable of sensing even the slightest “discomfort” in the form of stress or physical damage.

The shell of the spacecraft is embedded with several layers of organic polymers that mimic the arrangement of nerves in skin.

The shell itself is made of several layers of robust composite materials between which the sensor layers are sandwiched.

As a result, any stress or damage caused to the composite layers also directly affects the sensor layer and changes its electrical properties.

By passing electric currents through these layers at one end and detecting signals at the other end, early signs of physical damage may be detected and corrective action taken before a major hull breach occurs.
The sensor layers are so arranged that the exact location and extent of stress or damage can be accurately pinpointed.

Given the hostile environment that spacecraft’s operate in that often include exposure to micrometeors, it was only natural that space technology evolved with this solution to be able to sense such threats.

Drones that fly like birds

Patent number: US 20160117932

These drones can rapidly and autonomously locate a target in an unknown location within a designated area of interest. Currently, drones use pre-programmed search fight path techniques to locate target objects, which is a slow process.

First a drone is directed over the designated area of interest using a randomized flight process, such as Levi flight, which is also used by birds while searching for food. Animal hunting patterns of many ocean predators (silky sharks, yellowfin tuna, blue marlin and swordfish) also reveal similar patterns.

During the randomized flight process, drone receives location data concerning the drone’s position and sensor data associated with the target. Thereafter, a plurality of locations suitable to initialize a geo-localization flight process are identified. Next, the drone transitions from the randomized flight process to the geo-localization flight process; directing the UAV over the designated area of interest using the geo-localization flight process initialized using the plurality of locations; and estimating the target location using a final UAV location.

Boeing extends the life of planes

Patent number: US 20160114883

Water, ice, and surface contamination are significant problems in various industries including transportation, power, buildings, and consumer products. For example, ice accumulation can reduce the performance of aircraft and solar panels.

Hydrophobic surfaces are sometimes used to reduce the water and ice accumulation. However, conventional superhydrophobic surface structures are passive structures and generally relatively delicate structures.

Boeing’s superhydrophobic surface structures are actively-controlled surface structures exhibiting a superhydrophobic state and an ordinary state. They use MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) actuators to activate the superhydrophobic surface.

This technology will increase the safety of aircraft and also add some years to their life.

Google makes sure your packages aren’t stolen by neighborhood riffraff

Patent number: US 20160117934

Drones and other delivery devices like pods can reach near the destination address using various technologies like GPS. However, they’ll find it difficult to recognize a safe place to deliver a package. Leaving the package on the front porch of a busy street address may make it more likely that the package is stolen.

Google’s system uses delivery receptacles (electronically controlled boxes) installed at each address; for example, residential address. The delivery receptacles beam IR signals indicating their exact location. A delivery device near a particular address receives and uses these IR signals to identify and reach near the delivery receptacle. It then positions a package within the delivery receptacle, which then securely stores the package. The delivery receptacle also sends a message to the receiver about the safe reception of the package.

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