Apple Patents iPhone that Saves Itself from Drops

What if your iPhone protected itself from damage automatically when dropped? A patent awarded to Apple seeks to build this functionality directly into future mobile devices, analyzing sensor data to detect free fall. The concept continues from there, imagining a system that would react physically to reposition the iPhone in space to minimize damage on impact.

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Physics could save the day, along with movement within the iPhone to change the orientation of the falling device. Existing technology could be used, such as the vibration mechanism inside the phone. Alternatively, a headphone jack that is in use could lock around the plug, giving the owner time to catch the headphone cable and cut the fall short. AppleInsider explained the patent titled “Protective mechanism for an electronic device” was awarded this month after being filed early last year.

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A free-fall situation could be detected with existing sensors, such as the accelerometer, gyroscope or GPS. More sophisticated plans include the use of ultrasonic proximity sensors, or imaging sensors to collect more data. Once detected, the orientation of the ill-fated iPhone at impact would be determined along with time, speed and other variables. From this information, the software would determine a course of action to turn the device for protection. One example would be tilting the iPhone backward so that the corner of the glass display avoids contact with the ground.

More far fetched ideas in the patent include retractable buttons and even small fins that would be extended to alter the dynamics of the fall with aerodynamics. Apple already includes Sudden Motion Sensors in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, which detect sudden acceleration. When a drop or sudden movement is detected, the system protects spinning hard drives from damage by disengaging the disk drive heads.