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Smartphone Airbags Patented By Amazon Chief Executive

August 13, 2011

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Vice President Greg Hart have filed a patent application for what can effectively be described as an airbag for smartphones.

“In today’s world, portable devices have become ubiquitous and often indispensable to our work and personal life,” the United States Patent Application 20110194230, filed by Bezos and Hart on August 11, says. “A main convenience is that they are often small and light devices that are easy to hold in a hand, carry in a holster, purse or pocket or otherwise easily transportable.”

This portability, however, makes devices such as smartphones, electronic media players, netbooks, tablet computers, cameras, portable video game consoles, and similar devices “more susceptible to damage and loss,” the application states, noting that some reports claim that as many as one out of three cell phones are lost or damaged within the first year of ownership.

Thus, Bezos and Hart propose “a system and method for protecting a portable device from damage due to an impact with a surface…a damage avoidance system that detects a risk of damage to the portable device caused by an uncontrolled impact with a surface and takes steps to reduce or eliminate that risk. For example, the damage avoidance system may detect that the portable device is no longer in contact with a user and is uncontrollably moving toward a surface such that, upon impact, there is a risk of damage to the portable device. Upon detecting the risk of damage and prior to impact with the surface, the damage avoidance system activates a protection system having one or more protection elements that work in concert to reduce or prevent damage to the portable device upon impact.”

Essentially, according to Sam Biddle of Gizmodo, that means that the device would use its built-in accelerometer to detect falls, and then activate some type of built-in mechanism, such as an airbag or tiny jets that would flip the device over onto a padded side.

However, notes Bill Ray of the Register, “In the process of establishing risk, the patent doesn’t limit itself to acceleration, but also suggests that a laser rangefinder might be able to judge the speed of an approaching ground while the surface of the phone could detect if it was safely nestled in a bag or falling alone through an uncaring sky.”

Ray also suggests that the technology could use X-rays or radar to detect whether or not the approaching service is even a danger at first, thus deciding when to deploy its own safety measures and when not to.

In regards to the patent application, Engadget’s Sharif Sakr suggests that Bezos “must have time on his hands and butter on his fingers” to have come up with the idea.
“It all sounds a bit farfetched to us,” Ray adds, “but we already have phones that scream when they’re dropped, and laptop hard drives have long been able to park their heads prior to an anticipated impact, so perhaps we’re being too unimaginative.”

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