Amazon CEO gets deployable airbag patent for portable devices

By on December 14, 2012, 8:30 AM

While many companies are working to develop sturdier materials and smarter designs to help protect devices from hard impacts, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and co-inventor Gregory Hart have been cooking up less elegant solutions. The duo received a patent this week that outlines various elaborate concepts to save gadgets from damage, such as airbags that deploy when a device's sensors detect that it's falling.

Along with using an accelerometer to determine if, say, a smartphone has been dropped, the patent speaks of a "safety monitoring system" that would also include means of detecting the velocity of the handset's descent, its distance from the ground, as well as the type of surface it's going to land on. That last part might be accomplished using a number of technologies, such as infrared, radar, x-ray or image recognition.

Assuming the safety system calculated that a device was facing impending doom, it might have more tricks at its disposal than airbags. For instance, it could be rigged to release jets of gas that slow its plunge to Earth. Or maybe those jets could help orientate the device so it had a better shot of landing on its airbags. Alternatively -- or perhaps additionally -- the device could have deployable springs that absorb shock.

Most of these ideas seem better suited to a high school science project than consumer electronics, but to be fair, there's no sign that Amazon intends to put any of them to mainstream use. The company might just sit on the patent in hopes of licensing it to someone with specialized needs. For an idea of how such mechanisms might look in practice, check out this lab video of Lenovo's "flying laptop" from 2006:

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