Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos applied for a patent for a smartphone airbag system last year and it appears that the patent has now been granted. A lot of people damage their expensive smartphones by dropping them, often so badly that repair is uneconomical, so a new invention to soften the blow to your phone and your wallet is therefore very welcome.
This Kindle Fire was damaged in a fall
As it is described, the “impact damage” protection system sounds rather complicated yet futuristic. The system seems to reply upon cat-like reactions programmed into the device: “Prior to impact between a surface and a device, a determination of a risk of damage to the device is made. If the risk of damage to the device exceeds a threshold, a protection system is activated to reduce or substantially eliminate damage to the device.” The patent suggests that a device may use an airbag, air jet propulsion or even springs with which to protect itself from a fall!
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
Here is an example of the patented impact damage protection system taken from the patent documentation:
 To illustrate a specific example, a cellular phone (a portable device) may be equipped with a damage avoidance system that includes a safety monitoring system and a protection system. If the user drops the cellular phone, the safety monitoring system, through use of various detection elements described below, determines that the device is no longer in contact with the user, measures a distance from an approaching surface (e.g., ground) and determines a velocity toward that surface. Based on the collected information, the safety monitoring system determines whether the risk of damage to the cellular phone, that will be caused by the impending impact, exceeds an acceptable threshold. If the safety monitoring system determines that the risk of damage exceeds the acceptable threshold, the protection system is activated. The protection system, in this example, causes the device to be reoriented and deploys an airbag prior to contact such that the airbag first contacts the surface at impact. Instead of the cellular phone directly impacting the surface, the airbag absorbs the impact and cushions the cellular phone so that damage is reduced or substantially eliminated.
Though the example given above concerns smartphones, the invention may, of course, be adapted for use in Amazon’s Kindle tablet line-up and other valuable portable electronics devices such as laptops, computers and cameras. I would love to see this impact damage protection system in action on anything!
Amazon VP Greg Heart is the co-inventor of the system, so if this is going to appear in future devices it will probably be in a Kindle device first. Perhaps it may appear initially in the Amazon Kindle smartphone?