I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


29 December 2016

Amazon and its "airborne fulfillment center"

I've just heard about Amazon's astounding patent Airborne fulfillment center utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for item delivery. It uses an airship warehouse that deploys drones, or UAVs, to deliver packages to nearby addresses. Other vehicles would replenish the airship at intervals.

It was published as long ago (well, about eight months) as 5 April 2016 as a granted American patent, having been filed in 2014, but is described as a filed application in the BBC news story, published today, Amazon files patent for flying warehouse. Wrong, it has rights in the USA (but was apparently not filed abroad, so can be used there unless the idea can be shown to have been disclosed before the filing date). Below is one of the 13 pages of drawings from the 27 page patent specification.

Wow ! They really seem to be serious about the idea. Amazon's published patent applications and grants in the area of aviation from the year 2000 to 2016 are listed, in filing date order (most recent first). All 36 of them. There may be some duplication -- I usually only select World documents but Amazon usually uses the US system which confuses matters.

It's interesting to see that some are about keeping the noise down, perhaps to overcome possible objections. One patent application, published in September 2016, is the interesting Landing of unmanned aerial vehicles on transportation vehicles for transport -- landing them on truck roofs.

Other patents concern authenticating messages sent to the drone. Presumably there would be problems with hackers at random ordering drones to deliver to them ? Or perhaps trying to damage the company's image.

Like the concept of automonous vehicles on roads, unmanned aerial vehicles need to be trusted as being reliable. Amazon Prime Air is the name of the experimental service. My concern is, how does it get to the actual customer -- is the package left on the doorstep, how is the customer supposed to know it's arrived, and so on.

24 December 2016

Debit cards to become more secure

Today's Daily Telegraph has an article titled "Enigma technology to make new ultra-secure bank card" (online version).

It is about Barclays Bank's patent application for a more secure method for authenticating debit and credit cards. When "chip and pin" was introduced in 2004 in Britain there was a three digit code on the back. This can be used besides the account number and the expiry date to validate a transaction when the card is not present. For example when the payment is being made by phone or the Web.

The patent specification, Transaction authentication, published as a World application in November 2015, involves the card having a miniature keypad. The PIN is typed directly onto this keypad. That generates a fresh code which then appears next to the signature strip. The basic concept dates back, apparently to the German Enigma enciphering machines.

The concept has been hailed as the biggest development in anti-fraud devices since "chip and pin". It will replace Barclays Bank's sentry card readers, where account customers can access their accounts on the Web at home by using a stand-alone keypad.

The official summary of the invention is, to me, incomprehensible:

The disclosure provides a method of performing multiparty computation to carry out an operation, wherein the multiparty computation uses a plurality of parties arranged to jointly generate a result for the operation based on input data, the method comprising: each party of the plurality of parties generating corresponding intermediate data for use in generating the result; and performing a first authentication process on first authentication data, the first authentication data being based on the intermediate data generated by a first party of the plurality of parties, and, if the first authentication data fails the first authentication process, performing a corresponding predetermined action indicative of failure of the operation.

The article claims that the invention has been "patented" but my understanding is that it is awaiting grant (which would be done individually by region or country anyway). There is often confusion about the difference between publication of the application and of the grant of rights.

The UK suffered £755 million in losses due to banking fraud in 2015, and it is hoped that this new device will cut those losses. It will be interesting to see if the technology is kept for exclusive use by Barclays and its allied financial companies.