New Facebook Patent Shows A New Device. A Potential Voice First Platform.


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The Lego-Like Facebook Device.

Today (July 20th, 2017) the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USTPO) released a patent application called: “MODULAR ELECTROMECHANICAL DEVICE” [1].  I have examined patents since the 1980s and find this one very interesting on many levels.  This patent most certainly surfaced from Facebook’s Building 8 group based on the inventors listed.

Coincidentally enough, some of the inventors were part of the Google’s Project Ara team and moved on to Facebook over the last 18 months.  Project Ara was ultimately canceled by Google [2].  Although there are similarities between the concepts, Facebook is taking it to a different level.

The patent presents many claims and embodiments:

CLAIMS

1. An electromechanical device comprising: a processor module comprising: a processor circuit, a memory circuit connected to the processor circuit, and an interfacing circuit connected to the processor circuit; and a chassis including: a first attachment structure configured to attach the processor module to the chassis, one or more second attachment structures, each of the one or more second attachment structures configured to attach one of a plurality of functional modules to the chassis, each of the plurality of functional modules associated with a discrete functionality, and a plurality of traces extending between the first attachment structure and the one or more second attachment structures to operatively connect the interfacing circuit of the processor module with one or more functional modules attached to the one or more second attachment structures, a function to be performed by the electromechanical device defined by at least one or more functional modules attached to the one or more second attachment structures.

2. The electromechanical device of claim 1, wherein the chassis is a unitary structure formed from a three-dimensional (3D) printing process to include the first attachment structure, the one or more second attachment structures, and the plurality of traces.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0035] Various embodiments of a modular electromechanical device are described herein. The modular electromechanical device includes a chassis and a plurality of functional modules that can be connected to the chassis. Each module is associated with a different functionality. The functionality of the modular electromechanical device is defined based on various attributes. The attributes include the functionality of the different functional modules that are connected to the electromechanical device, the sequence in which the different functional modules are connected to the electromechanical device, the specific attachment structures used to attach the functional modules to the electromechanical device, or a pattern of traces formed within the chassis.

 

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This establishes the basic concept with a very interesting pointed reference to a 3D printing process.  It is highly unusual to present and exact process for module manufacturing and this patent application calls it out in specific.  This can portent to a number of situations where module can be made on-demand at the users home or perhaps a retail location.  We also are introduced to the basic premise of how traces are extending between the first attachment structure and the one or more second attachment structures.

The embodiments continue on with this very important passage:

7. The electromechanical device of claim 1, wherein the plurality of functional modules comprise at least one of a speaker functional module, a microphone functional module, a touch pad functional module, a global positioning system (GPS) functional module, a display screen functional module, or a thermometer functional module.

[0037] A “function” or “functionality” of the electromechanical device, as described herein, refers to function of a larger granularity that is generally perceived by a user as sufficient to constitute a stand-along device. The “function” or “functionality” of the electromechanical device is of larger granularity than the “function” of a functional module. For example, a function of a speaker functional module (a functional module) would be to generate sound when an electrical signal is received whereas a function of an Internet radio device (an electromechanical device that includes the speaker functional module) is to reproduce music received over Internet.

[0039] FIG. 1 illustrates an overview of a modular electromechanical device 100 (hereinafter referred to as a “device”) according to one embodiment. The device 100 can be configured into a plurality of different types of devices that each have a distinct functionality based upon the modules that are connected to the device 100. For example, the device 100 can be initially configured as a speaker device and then later reconfigured into a global positioning system (GPS) device. Thus, the device can provide a user with a multitude of different functionality based upon the modules connected to the device 100.

[0044] Alternatively, the shape and/or size of the cavities formed within the chassis 101 are different. For example, in FIG. 2 cavity 201A is larger than cavity 201B although cavity 201A and cavity 20B are both square shaped. When the cavities included in the chassis 101 have a different shape and/or size, each cavity may only be configured to house particular modules that have a shape and size that match the shape and size of that particular cavity. The shape and size of the cavity can also enhance the functionality of the module 103, 105 connected to the chassis 101. For example, a cavity may include a speaker resonance chamber to enhance the functionality of a speaker module that is connected to the chassis. Other functional characteristics of the cavity can act to enhance the properties of the cavity than those described herein.

[0055] A functional module 105 may be associated with any type of functionality that describes the individual capability of the functional module 105. For example, a functional module 105 can be a speaker functional module 107A that outputs sound. FIG. 4A is one embodiment of a speaker functional module 107A. The speaker functional module 107A includes at least coils, magnets, and a speaker cone that are housed within frame. The various components included in the speaker functional module 107A allow the speaker to output sound.

[0067] For example, consider the scenario where a speaker functional module 107A and a microphone functional module 107B will be plugged into chassis 101. The device type of device 100 is dependent on the sequence in which the speaker functional module 107A and the microphone functional module 107B are connected to the chassis 101. For example, if the speaker functional module 107A is first connected to the chassis 101 followed by the microphone functional module 107B, the processor module 103 may determine that the device 100 is a karaoke device based on the sequence rules. However, if the microphone functional module 107B is first connected to the chassis 101 followed by the speaker functional module 107A, the processor module 107B may determine that the device 100 is a telephone device based the sequence rules. Thus, the order in which functional modules 105 are connected to the chassis affects the device type of the device 100.

[0069] For example, consider the scenario where a speaker functional module 107A and a microphone functional module 107B will be plugged into the chassis 101 that includes attachment structure A and attachment structure B. The device type of device 100 will is dependent on which attachment structures are used to connect to the speaker functional module 107A and the microphone functionality module 107B. For example, if the speaker functional module 107A is connected to the chassis 101 using attachment structure A and the microphone functional module 107B is connected to the chassis 101 using attachment structure B, the processor module 103 may determine that the device 100 is a karaoke device based on the attachment structure rules. However, if the microphone functional module 107B is connected to the chassis 101 using attachment structure A and the speaker functional module 107A is connected to attachment structure B, the processor module 107B may determine that the device 100 is a telephone device based the attachment structure rules. Thus, although the same functional modules 105 are attached to the chassis 101, the device type of device 100 changes based on which attachment structures are used to connect to the functional modules.

[0089] In one embodiment, the device 100 detects 701 one or more functional modules 105 connected to the chassis 101 of the device 100. For example, the device 100 may detect that a speaker functional module 107A and a microphone functional module 107B are connected to the chassis 101 of the device 100. The device 100 determines 703 the device type of the device 100 based on the connected functional module 105. The device 100 may also determine the device type of the device based on other factors described above such as the sequence in which different functional modules 105 are connected to the chassis 101 or the specific attachment structures used to connect the functionality modules to the chassis 101.

It is clear that the speaker and microphone element to test embodiments are central to the patent.  We can also note this is not focused on a near-field use case like a cellphone.  For example element 0069 specifically calls out a karaoke use case and this clearly is far-field.

Why is this important? For many reasons it would not be useful for Facebook to release a patent that specifically calls out a Voice First platform.  However to add this to the embodiments mentioned above would be logical and accepted by the USTPO.  It is clear many embodiments present a far-field microphone and speaker combination and clearly Facebook has made it clear that at some point Project Jarvis and M will merge to become a Voice First platform.  The logical conclusion would be, what would the hardware be like?  For it would be foolish for Facebook to not control the reference hardware platform, much like Amazon, Google and Apple.

This modular approach is brilliant in the way it can also the user to add more features and functionally over time, much like the 1970s-1980s modular Hi-Fi era.  In this era one could purchase just a receiver/amplifier for radio with some speakers and over time add a turntable, cassette player, 8-track tape player and other modules. This has the effect of keeping the base price very low.  A sort of situation where you start with an Amazon Echo Dot and work your way up to a full High Fidelity system that Apple presents in HomePod.

This patent was originally filed in January, 2017 and certainly is setting a foundation for some new ideas Facebook has for hardware.  I do not suggest that this will play out in an exact manner, however it is clear that Facebook wanted to be sure to secure a patent covering these concepts.

As Amazon begins to form a social network directly through the forthcoming Amazon Always or the ad-hoc social network already established around the newest iteration of Alexa, Facebook will need to become a Voice First company to compete.   Apple will also pressure Facebook with Siri integrations in to Messages and Apple Business Chat [3].  A Voice First approach to all of Facebook’s properties can draw the daily active use and users to a far higher level.  It can also make Facebook part of the physical space and allow Messenger to form a new instant Voice First based communication channel.  The modular approach will allow Facebook to tip toe into this space with the ability to allow users to invent/create a custom system tailored to their uses.  From the very small and portable to the large with a video screen.

I have been expecting a Facebook Voice First platform since 2012.  The window for maximum opportunity for the company is now fully open.  Marc Zuckerberg has made it very clear he wants to bring Jarvis to market.  I think this may be one way this is achieved and it may be far sooner than most observes think.  It may happen very soon.

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[1] appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=20170208700.PGNR.&OS=&RS=

[2] www.theverge.com/2016/9/2/12775922/google-project-ara-modular-phone-suspended-confirm

[3] readmultiplex.com/2017/06/10/meet-apple-business-chat-the-most-important-ios-feature-since-siri/

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Of interest:

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