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Why Zillow filed for another (nearly identical) patent

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Zillow files another patent to claim rights over another technology that is neither original nor impressive. Zillow seems to love these kinds of patents

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Zillow patents ideas

Zillow is at it again. The real estate tech giant has filed yet another patent for “Connecting and using building interior data acquired from mobile devices.” So now they’ll have 2 patents that are almost identical.

Even if you’ve never toured a home as a prospective renter or buyer, I would bet that at this point in quarantine you have probably led at least one Facetime tour of your home for colleagues, friends, or family. You probably walked around your living room pointing out your robust plant collection, and depending on your audience, that one especially phallic cactus you are inappropriately proud of owning. You visited each room and stood in different corners to get the full effect of lighting, feng shui, and your inoperable vintage gum ball machine.

Now imagine instead of a live tour you took photos and videos to send along to someone else, to give them the full effect of visiting your home. Zillow’s application seeks to patent the automation of that very process of connecting cell phone collected visual records to produce an interior representation of a building, house, or other structure.

First Zillow patented the “techniques” for capturing this interior image data. Now, they want to patent the automation of capturing and linking that data.

Zillow has a storied history of what some may consider patent trolling. Patent trolling is a term used to describe an entity which uses patents as a sort of demented legal circus ringmaster would to manipulate competitors. Trolls apply for a ridiculous number of patents to claim intellectual rights on technology that is commonly known and widely used, and then uses the collection of patents to threaten litigation on anyone who attempts to use the technology without permission. In order to avoid expensive and time-consuming litigation, defendants often opt to pay licensing fees to the patent holder in order to use the technology and move on with their lives.

Zillow has already been embroiled in lawsuits with Corus Realty Holdings, IBM, and rival-turned-subsidiary Trulia over patent infringement, both as plaintiff and defendant.

I wish I could tell you the government is too clever not to snuff out this sort of blatant manipulation of the American litigation machine, but that would really be fake news. Besides they might be a bit busy, what with a highly contagious pandemic sweeping the nation.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather has her Bachelor of Arts in Neurobiology from Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. When she's not writing for AG, you can find her pouring beers at the Brewtorium, but only one at a time.

Real Estate Technology

Drones inspired by birds

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Newly developed drones incorporate a flapping X-wing design that allow them to fly, thrust, and maneuver much like a bird.

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X-wing drones

The next generation of drones will master the art and aerodynamics of flight with actual wings! This complex engineering feat adds both stability and an unforeseen agility to drones, which means they will be more useful than ever before.

Darting, flapping, swooping, hovering, and soaring are a few of the improved capabilities these cross-wing ornithopters have, making them far superior to the often wobblier, stiffer versions on the market now. The creators of the ornithopters used reverse engineering based on detailed observation and study of how birds move to create a winged version of the flying robot drones.

Instead of the propellers and fixed-wings used in conventional drones, these new drones flap their wings and raise their tails in order to create a forward thrust, similar to how birds and insects fly. The X-wing designs make these flying robots better at maneuvering tight spaces, giving them greater control at varying speeds.

How exactly does the X-wing design excel where other flapping-wing designs have failed? The inventors form a team of researchers from Singapore, Australia, China, and Taiwan. In a recent Science Robotics magazine article, they explain:

“One difference is that our ornithopters make use of the “clap and fling” effect. The two pairs of wings flap such that they meet, like hands clapping. This makes enough extra thrust to lift their body weight when hovering.”

The ornithopters have control over nose and tail as well, and can quickly change from moving horizontally to moving vertically. They also use up to 40% less energy to run, and can be flown like a regular plane, or hover like an existing drone in order to conserve even more energy. Because of the greater control and increased capabilities of these drones, they also have more uses including being safe enough to fly inside.

One of the researchers responsible for creating this ornithopter, Lau Gih-Keong, an associate professor in mechanical engineering at Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University, spoke to CNN about specific future uses of these flying machines. The new drones can be used to maneuver in and out of nearly inaccessible, tight spaces. For example, they can easily fly in and out of a ventilation duct, where regular inspections are difficult but essential to system upkeep.

If you want to see how these next gen drones work, The Conversation published three videos of these marvels in motion. They look small, about the size of a hummingbird or even a large, flying insect. One can only imagine their potential after seeing how agile they are. In that same article, the researchers have said they will continue to refine and develop these and newer drones, based on the evolution of birds.

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Real Estate Technology

This note-taking app adapts to your thought process

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Relanote is a dynamic alternative to the age-old practice of taking notes.

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relanote notes

Taking notes is a process that has evolved substantially to fit individuals and has stayed relatively static in overall execution. It may be surprising, then, for us to say that a new take on note-taking is worth your immediate and full attention–but that’s exactly the case.

Relanote is a fresh entry in the arguably oversaturated “Notepad” app category. All of the features you’d expect in a minimalist note-taking app are there–encryption, note sharing, a free version, access across the four main computer and mobile platforms–but what makes it truly interesting is its hierarchical system of organization.

Somewhat like Slack, Relanote allows you to tag other notes by using the “@” symbol, and you can classify your notes by using hashtags within them. This is a super simple but effective way to organize, find, and utilize your notes without having to do any kind of copying and pasting, split window view, or swiping back and forth.

Once you’ve tagged a note in another note, you can zoom out to see how the two (or more) notes connect to each other in a visual “graph” that displays each of your tagged notes in a web. You can even filter different tags on the graph so that any irrelevant information is left out when looking for something specific.

The app also has a file-and-folder storage option to help organize your notes in a “physical” manner. “By leveraging the power of both methods, Relanote adapts to your way of thinking,” Relanote’s product page claims.

Relanote outlines quite a few upcoming features on their website, some of which include importing, exporting, themes, and templates for your notes. If you’d like to access these features, you’ll need to upgrade to the pro version ($4 per month) or the team version ($9 per month). However, Relanote makes it clear that the core principle of their app is present in the free version–and that’s enough to get you started.

A note-taking app that adapts to your particular process of writing, organizing, and revising sounds like a steal, especially when you consider that the base version is free for unlimited use. Especially if you’re a visual person who’s looking for a new way to record information, Relanote is worth your time.

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Real Estate Technology

Grapevine is the new Snapchat for work and team meetings

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) In an era of offensively inefficient video communications, Grapevine appears to be a breath of fresh air.

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grapevine zoom competitor

If you’re anything like us, you’re completely burnt out on Zoom meetings that, quite frankly, could have been much, much shorter (or completely relegated to the email medium). Should you find yourself experiencing the same frustration, cheer up–there’s a solution.

Grapevine, an asynchronous meeting app designed specifically for remote teams, is a clear answer to the question, “what if I’m not free at that time?” Their slogan–”Team updates without team meetings”–perfectly summarizes what they’re about: Efficiency of information dissemination without the abhorrent time suck that is your average Zoom call.

It’s also worth noting that Grapevine is an amicable solution for employees working in patchy Wi-Fi zones or operating on cellular data (as it seems to go these days). The same could be said for issues related to time zones, appointments, or other inconveniences that arise all too frequently in the remote work atmosphere.

The way Grapevine works is devilishly simple: Think Snapchat, but for work.

Any member of a team can record, view, and respond to one-way video recordings inside of the Grapevine framework. There’s even a feature that functions as a morning briefing of sorts, allowing you to catch up on all of the content from work that you missed overnight, while on vacation, or so on.

Video comments can be shared or pinned to answer questions efficiently rather than having to re-record or paraphrase a response, and these comments form threads that can be accessed at any time, making the process of checking feedback simple and quick, as opposed to the general nightmare that is scrubbing through a Zoom recording.

Grapevine also allows you to divide into teams and function within those groups separately, making it a bit of an amalgam between Slack and the aforementioned Snapchat.

All of that is pretty great, but perhaps the best aspect is that Grapevine is free to use–at least in its current form. While the Grapevine team promises to bring premium access and features to the app soon, the basic version of Grapevine will remain free, and the premium access will take the form of an “affordable subscription.”

You don’t have to ditch Zoom entirely, but if you want your employees or coworkers to stop sticking needles in your effigy after hours, Grapevine is a great alternative.

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