Amazon Wants to Make Headphones That Switch Off When Your Name is Called

By Gerald Lynch on at

Amazon's been really going out there with its hardware plans since the Fire Phone went tits up, with Echo/ Alexa a quirky voice-activated robo spy and the Dash the most disruptive shopping incentive since the introduction of the reduced produce aisle. A new patent filing shows off the company's audio aspirations too, revealing a safety-first noise-cancelling headset that could switch off should it hear specific trigger sounds.

The patent, filed back in July 2014 and granted on July 19th of this year, would make use of an array of microphones in its ear pads and noise-recognition software to identify specific sounds and let in ambient noise by automatically switching off as a result.

It's a smart idea – there have been plenty of times I've been oblivious to the world with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones on, only to miss a doorbell or an annoyed call from a pal. If Amazon could make a pair of headphones that can identify a screeching car horn or siren, it might even be a lifesaver.

But that headline feature idea might get more irritating than useful if you've got one of the world's more common names, like John or Elizabeth. Just walking down the street might make your tunes sound like a scratched, jumping record if there are enough people with the right names hanging around. But a simple nickname trigger would get around that too – indeed the patent lays the groundwork for a two-part command system, a sonic password of sorts.

Keep in mind that a patent is never a sure-fire guarantee that you'll end up with a final product in your hands, and with the UK still waiting for Alexa (on which this headset seems to build its foundations) I wouldn't hold my breath. But it certainly shows that, despite relative failures like the Fire Phone, Amazon's still got some unique (and weird) hardware ideas of its own. [USPTO]