Mobile Technology

Apple patents active fall protection to give iPhones a soft landing

Apple patents active fall prot...
Apple has patented technology to detect when its gadgets are falling, and give them the softest landing possible ... parachutes not included (Photo composite: Shutterstock [1], [2])
Apple has patented technology to detect when its gadgets are falling, and give them the softest landing possible ... parachutes not included (Photo composite: Shutterstock [1], [2])
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Detection of fall, angle, rotation and impact spot
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Detection of fall, angle, rotation and impact spot
Flowchart of detection and action
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Flowchart of detection and action
Flowchart of detection and action
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Flowchart of detection and action
Apple has patented technology to detect when its gadgets are falling, and give them the softest landing possible ... parachutes not included (Photo composite: Shutterstock [1], [2])
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Apple has patented technology to detect when its gadgets are falling, and give them the softest landing possible ... parachutes not included (Photo composite: Shutterstock [1], [2])
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Apple has been awarded a fascinating patent on technology that can detect when a smartphone has been dropped, work out how far it is to the ground, and forcibly adjust the phone's rotation in mid-air so that it lands in a way least likely to damage critical components.

United States Patent 8,903,509: "Protective mechanism for an electronic device" was awarded yesterday to Apple's Nicholas King and Fletcher Rothkopf.

It covers a device that can use its motion sensors to detect a free-fall situation, and make calculations about its trajectory and point of impact, and then deploy mechanical countermeasures to alter its orientation and angular momentum as it falls.

Flowchart of detection and action
Flowchart of detection and action

Some methods named in the patent include the movement of a weight inside the device, the use of rotating motors (such as those used to create the vibrate function) to alter angular momentum, and the deployment of aerodynamic airfoils to reduce the impact velocity.

There's also the option for the device to retract, move or alter components when an impact is likely, or grab onto a headphone cable tightly when a fall is detected, or even to produce angular thrust using tiny gas cylinders.

Perhaps my favorite idea is the ejector battery, in which the device jettisons its battery to alter its trajectory. That's right, it actually falls to bits before it even hits the ground.

Just patenting the ideas doesn't mean they'll be popping up on the iPhone 7, but it's always interesting to see what blue-sky thinking is being employed. And since screen-shattering drops are probably the most common cause of death for portable electronics, it's not hard to imagine next-gen devices with self-protective measures in the next 10 years. Perhaps a phone that can enclose itself in a zip-loc bag when it detects it's falling into a toilet?

Mind you, the skeptic might suggest certain companies would program their handsets to check for date of purchase and warranty status before deciding whether to rotate towards or away from the critical components.

Via: Apple Insider

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11 comments
Dylan Sheets
Samsung solution: Make a tougher phone.
Alex Karp
Would be cool if Apple used the active core to direct impacts to a replaceable piece like Bumpies.
fenshwey
How can they patent existing technology?
Lenovo/IBM active protection system already does this to protect high end think pads.
That's Apple "Blue sky" thinking for you. Patent someone else's idea and make millions off it. Patent system is a joke. Patents going back as far as 1995 talking about active protection. How can you patent such an obvious idea I'll never know, its not an invention.
abi
Control moment gyro is a good option for such system.
Stan Sieler
Maybe they can implement it with a codename honoring a cat ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtWbpyjJqrU (See 1:10)
RonArt
Tie a fishing line between the phone and the user's belt. The user can't lose the phone, or have it stolen, or drop it all the way to the ground. Total cost: a few cents. No patent needed.
Gadgeteer
fenshwey,
It really would help you if you would read an article before jumping to conclusions. This is nothing like a laptop's active protection system. All those do is stop the hard drive to avoid a head crash. This is about actually reorienting an iPhone in mid-air so it doesn't land on the glass. If you know of a laptop that can protectively spin itself around, I'd be mightily impressed.
Gregg Eshelman
This is why the USPTO should go back to requiring a demonstration of a working example of the patented technology etc.
After that requirement was done away with, all kinds of silly nuttery and patent trolls came out of the woodwork.
Tuppe
Yeah, I bet they patented it so no one could ever use it.
There's no reason for them to use this. Something like 90% of Apple's income seems to come from Apple fanboys' broken phones.
I rarely meet iPhone users who hadn't bought 2 iPhones because they dropped the old one.
I'm also very dubious how well it can overcome the initial angular momentum. Usually when you try to panic catch your phone, you end up flipping it 3000rpm with 9 Megatonnes of kinetic energy.
I reckon that some 2 gram pissant motors have virtually no saying in that case.
Tom Swift
deploy tiny airbags?