Having to lug around your iPhone in a bulky protective case to prevent damage from accidental drops may soon be a thing of the past if Apple has anything to say about it. A recent patent filing from Cupertino outlines a number of methods that could be used to lessen damage the next time gravity introduces your phone and the ground.
As the patent outlines, the device in question would need a sensor or a sensor array designed to determine rapid acceleration, like during freefall. These sensors would also be able to determine the device's position relative to the ground.
Once that data has been captured and calculated, a mechanism inside the device would then be able to shift positions to effectively determine how the handset lands - for example, not face down on the delicate display. Other solutions include protecting the internal hardware, preventing a freefall by gripping a plug like the headset or charging connector, limiting damage with the help of a thrust mechanism and even deploying an air foil that activates during freefall.
Another section of the patent outlines the use of a "black box" that, much like the ones found in airplanes, could be used to collect data about a fall and the subsequent impact. This data could then be used by Apple to help learn more about how devices fall to create better designs in the future. Naturally, one would assume that a data recorder like this could also be used by repair technicians to help validate warranty claims.