Apple looks to protect dropped iPhones by shifting their orientation mid-flight

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
An Apple invention discovered on Thursday describes a system that could potentially save the most fragile components of an iPhone, such as the glass screen, by detecting when a device is falling and shifting the handset's center of mass to control its landing.

Protective
Source: USPTO


Published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's "Protective Mechanism for an Electronic Device" patent filing looks to alleviate some or all of the damage when a device is accidentally dropped. While the invention can be applied to any electronic device with a processor, from a tablet to a laptop, it is most well-suited for those portables that users carry with them on a daily basis. For example, Apple's iPhone is specifically mentioned in the patent language.

In order to work, the system needs a sensor or sensor array that can detect when a device is in freefall and how it is positioned relative to the ground. These can be simple gyroscopes, accelerometers or position sensors, but the patent also notes more advanced components like GPS and imaging sensors may be employed. Coupled to the sensor is a processor that can help determine a freefall state, including how fast a device is falling, how far away it is from the ground and time to impact, among other metrics. Statistics of various fall heights, speeds and other data can be stored on system memory to aid the processor in making a decision on how best to land the device.

Mass
Illustration of mass motor drive with attached mass.


Finally, the system requires a mechanism to either reorientate the device while in flight, or otherwise protect certain sensitive device components in the event of a fall. Here, the patent calls for a number of solutions, including the movement of a weighted mass within the device, a means to "grip a plug" to prevent a freefall, lift foils that can be extended out from the surface of a device, and a thrust mechanism such as a can of gas, among other countermeasures.

Clamp
Headphone plug clamp system.


Basically, the sensor send signals to the processor, which determines if a device is in a freefall state. If such a determination is made, the protective mechanism is deployed. Many of the embodiments focus on repositioning the device while in flight to have it impact a non-vital area or portion of the unit. In order to lessen the blow, or avoid it entirely, the protective mechanism can substantially change the angular velocity, device positioning or device rotation.

From the patent overview:
In one example, the protective mechanism is configured to alter the device orientation as the device is falling. This may allow a less vulnerable portion of the device to impact the surface at the end of a freefall. For example, the protective mechanism may be activated to rotate the device so that it may impact a surface on its edge, rather than on a screen portion.
Alternative embodiments focus on using internal motors used to grasp onto inserted cables to break a fall, extend air foils or aerodynamic lift members, and retract vital parts like switches. In addition, other options call for mechanisms that forcefully jettison cables which may be pulling a device off a table or weighty power supplies. In one example, a gas canister is used as thrust to counter gravitational acceleration.

Lift
Lift members can be extended from the device chassis to provide aerodynamic lift during freefall.


Such a complex system is unlikely to be integrated into an iPhone anytime soon, especially given the handset's increasing trend toward a thin-and-light design, but future iterations or products may see a similar method employed as component miniaturization technologies advance.

Apple's protective mechanism application was filed in September 2011, and credits Nicholas V. King and Fletcher Rothkopf; Fletcher as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 91
    nchianchia Posts: 123member
    Isn't it a tad early for April Fool's?
  • Reply 2 of 91
    Great idea. Invisible innovation that you won't find anywhere else.
    ...and the pundits want us to believe that there is no difference?
    Go Apple.
  • Reply 3 of 91
    bigmikebigmike Posts: 252member
    Awesome thinking. This is the Apple I know.
  • Reply 4 of 91
    monstrositymonstrosity Posts: 2,203member


    Ha. This is pretty amusing. :) :)


     


    It's like the phone equivalent of a cat, throw it in the air and it lands on it's legs every time.

  • Reply 5 of 91
    clemynxclemynx Posts: 1,510member
    Very clever. I doubt we'll ever see it though, since such a motor takes a lot of space and Apple is apparently taking measures to make the phone more resistant.
  • Reply 6 of 91
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,129member


    This is the sort of innovation I expect from Apple, sure it might not come out for a few years but the idea is a smart one.

  • Reply 7 of 91
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    It's quite clever but simply making the device of harder materials might be simpler.
  • Reply 8 of 91
    irelandireland Posts: 17,589member


    Or by making them physically tougher?

  • Reply 9 of 91
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    ascii wrote: »
    It's quite clever but simply making the device of harder materials might be simpler.

    ireland wrote: »
    Or by making them physically tougher?

    Or both. Liquidmetal, where are you?
  • Reply 10 of 91
    jonshfjonshf Posts: 88member
    What about the general shape of the device?

    My instinct suggests that the curved back of the original iPhone would tend to make it fall on its back or side. The symetrical front and back of the iPhone 5 combined with a lighter aluminum back and a heavier glass front would tend to make it fall on its face.

    Also, a lighter and thinner device (i.e. iPhone 5) will fall slower. The iPhone 4 had glass on both sides and fell like a stone.
  • Reply 11 of 91
    plagenplagen Posts: 151member


    Just spread some butter over the side opposite to the fragile one image

  • Reply 12 of 91
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Adding weight and complexity, while increasing the volume a device would otherwise have if it didn't have such features doesn't sound like Apple.

    I guess it was good for them to file it, maybe the technology to make this practical will be available before the patent expires.
  • Reply 13 of 91
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,259member
    Ha. This is pretty amusing. :) :)

    It's like the phone equivalent of a cat, throw it in the air and it lands on it's legs every time.

    My exact thought. The solution of course is a tail needs to pop out as it falls. :)

    Of course it is probably a trick to see how long it takes Scamsung to start work on a parachute for their giant phones.
  • Reply 14 of 91
    geekdadgeekdad Posts: 1,131member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post







    Or both. Liquidmetal, where are you?


    Agreed...I am all for thinking outside the box and providing different solutions. But the most obvious solution would be stronger materials and balanced so it lands on a specific point all of the time. Then make the specific point not breakable......this is engineering 101....

  • Reply 15 of 91
    geekdadgeekdad Posts: 1,131member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post





    My exact thought. The solution of course is a tail needs to pop out as it falls. image



    Of course it is probably a trick to see how long it takes Scamsung to start work on a parachute for their giant phones.


    or smartphone air bags! image

  • Reply 16 of 91
    chandra69chandra69 Posts: 638member
    It definitely adds weight to the iPhone body. iPhone's weight becomes more, isn't it? Am I missing something?
  • Reply 17 of 91


    Not needed really, I always spread butter on the back of my iphone, job done.

  • Reply 18 of 91

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jonshf View Post





    Also, a lighter and thinner device (i.e. iPhone 5) will fall slower. The iPhone 4 had glass on both sides and fell like a stone.


     


    Galileo would like to disagree... ;)

  • Reply 19 of 91
    v5vv5v Posts: 1,357member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jonshf View Post



    [...] Also, a lighter and thinner device (i.e. iPhone 5) will fall slower. The iPhone 4 had glass on both sides and fell like a stone.


     


    The weight of a device does not affect the speed at which it falls. Remember Galileo's experiment dropping balls from a tower?


     


    The fall may be affected by aerodynamics, aka air resistance, but that means a thinner device might actually fall faster.

  • Reply 20 of 91


    Well a lighter and thinner device will drop slower as it will be influenced more by wind or gets a higher resistance from the air particles. A feather is not dropping straight to the floor but swirls. The feather drops at the same speed as a brick in a vacuum environment.


     


    But why is there a need to change mass in the phone? Why not put the mass there at all times? It might be that it then feels a bit ackward to keep in your hand?


     


    But as said, adding weight and thickness is so unlike Apple.

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