Noise-canceling headphones may be great when you're in loud environments and you just want to concentrate on your music or mute the rest of the world, but there are times when they block out those important sounds, such as someone calling your name, a siren, or a car horn. But thanks to an Amazon patent, this potentially dangerous problem could become a thing of the past.

The online retail giant has been awarded a patent for a pair of noise-canceling headphones that block out sounds but can also switch off the feature when it detects certain frequencies, sound patterns, or special keywords and phrases.

As noted by CNET, the headphones work by using an array of microphones built into the ear pads that listen to ambient sounds, similar to the way Amazon Echo's Alexa listens out for vocal prompts. One of the inventors listed on the patent, Benjamin Scott, worked on the Alexa Information team for three years.

The system could be programmed to listen out for the wearer's name or phrases such as "excuse me." But the feature could be particularly useful when crossing roads, where it could detect dangers that might otherwise be missed when wearing standard noise-canceling headphones.

As is the case with all patents, there's no guarantee that Amazon's headphones will ever become an actual product. But the smart noise-canceling headphones have already received a lot of interest and, as it improves the design of an already popular product, the chances of seeing a real-life finished version seem pretty high.

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