Apple patents active fall protection system that shifts iPhones in midair

Posted:
in General Discussion edited December 2014
Apple on Tuesday was awarded a patent covering a futuristic iPhone protection system that can recognize when a phone is dropped, calculate an estimated point of impact and shift its center of gravity to avoid striking sensitive components.


Source: USPTO


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially awarded Apple U.S. Patent No. 8,903,519 for a "Protective mechanism for an electronic device," which looks to safeguard expensive computer hardware from accidental drops, a problem that has become all too familiar with the latest slim iPhone designs. Apple's invention can not only estimate where a device will make impact, but actively shift the unit's center of gravity so that sensitive components like glass screens and cameras are not damaged.

As described in the patent text, Apple's system relies on sensors to monitor physical device activity and positioning. Accepted embodiments leverage onboard accelerometers, gyroscopes and GPS which are already incorporated in the latest iPhone and iPad models, while more advanced designs call for ultrasonic sensors, among others.

Feeding the data generated by the positioning sensors to a central processing unit enables quick and accurate device positioning determination, specifically as it applies to a state of freefall. When such a scenario is detected, sensors and processor work together to measure speed of descent, time to impact, orientation and other metrics. The processor may then conduct a statistical analysis of the fall by comparing gathered data against embedded information stored in device memory.

Once calculations are complete, the system activates a protective mechanism designed to reposition the device in midair so as to impart the least amount of damage to fragile components. The main example uses a motor with eccentric mass able to impart a force on a falling phone's rotational axis, causing it to land on a preferred site, such as its side or back.




In practice, an iPhone's vibration motor is sufficient to change the angular momentum of an iPhone spinning in freefall. Depending on the rate of spin, angular velocity, time to impact and other factors, the vibration motor may be powered at higher rotational speeds than normal, effectively controlling momentum and ultimately landing angle.

While Apple's most recent iPhone 6 and 6 Plus incorporate bespoke linear oscillating motors that do not use an eccentrically connected rotational mass, previous models did, meaning the patent could easily be worked in to an upcoming variant.




More exotic embodiments include internal mechanisms that latch onto or jettison headphone cables in a freefall event, while others involve motors capable of extending and retracting air foils or aerodynamic surfaces for controlled landings. Moving further into the unconventional are miniaturized gas canisters that exert thrust forces to slow down a fall and sliding weights moved along an internal track by linear motors.

AppleInsider was first to cover Apple's protective mechanism patent applicationin 2013. The official patent as granted credits Nicholas V. King and Fletcher Rothkopf as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 48
    Holy Cow! Talk about "not" being innovative!
  • Reply 2 of 48
    How does this fit into Apple's obsession with thinness?
  • Reply 3 of 48
    iPhone Cat. Now make a buttered toast sandwich with it and you've got yourself a perpetual generator. xD
  • Reply 4 of 48
    A patent for clumsiness. I guess Apple wants us all to become clumsy.
  • Reply 5 of 48
    asciiascii Posts: 5,850member

    This would really mess with those YouTube drop testers. Try as they might to drop it on it's screen, the darn thing just never does. 

     

    The coolest thing would be if mini retro-rockets came out and it repulsively landed :)

  • Reply 6 of 48
    blazarblazar Posts: 270member
    Pre-pre-Vaporware!
  • Reply 7 of 48
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,328member
    Interesting concept that I recall being discussed a year or two back. The issue with modifying angular momentum during a fall remains the need to know the exact height of the phone above the impact surface. That is the single, critical unknown. Without an ultrasonic method - mentioned as a more advanced enhancement - or something equivalent, it's hard to see how this can work.
  • Reply 8 of 48
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member

    Too heavy.  It wont be implemented.  Mass is mass.

  • Reply 9 of 48

    Uh, they could achieve the same thing by weighting the side they want it to land on. No motor, no computers, etc.

     

    Perhaps next they could try a little parachute that deploys whenever the phone is dropped.

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by muppetry View Post



    Interesting concept that I recall being discussed a year or two back. The issue with modifying angular momentum during a fall remains the need to know the exact height of the phone above the impact surface. That is the single, critical unknown. Without an ultrasonic method - mentioned as a more advanced enhancement - or something equivalent, it's hard to see how this can work.



    I remember this, too.

  • Reply 10 of 48
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,586member
    iCat :D
  • Reply 11 of 48
    shsfshsf Posts: 302member

    iBrokeIt but iTfell

  • Reply 12 of 48
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,328member
    cnocbui wrote: »
    Too heavy.  It wont be implemented.  Mass is mass.

    But angular momentum is moment of inertia x angular velocity, so such a system can work with relatively low-mass components provided that they spin fast enough.
  • Reply 13 of 48

    Leave it to Apple to find a way to give the iPhone cat-like instincts. 

     

    But wait - jettisoned cables? air foils? gas canisters? Is someone exercising a little artistic license there?

  • Reply 14 of 48
    iaeeniaeen Posts: 588member
    muppetry wrote: »
    Interesting concept that I recall being discussed a year or two back. The issue with modifying angular momentum during a fall remains the need to know the exact height of the phone above the impact surface. That is the single, critical unknown. Without an ultrasonic method - mentioned as a more advanced enhancement - or something equivalent, it's hard to see how this can work.

    How exact do you think it needs to be?

    I wouldn't be surprised if the overwhelming majority of drops are from roughly the same hight (say, 3-5 feet). Apple could design this distance into the mechanism, and it would still be effective in most cases.
  • Reply 15 of 48
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,269member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Mainyehc View Post



    iPhone Cat. Now make a buttered toast sandwich with it and you've got yourself a perpetual generator. xD

    I was just about to say they invented the cat phone. Lands on it feet all the time.

  • Reply 16 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ascii View Post

     

    This would really mess with those YouTube drop testers. Try as they might to drop it on it's screen, the darn thing just never does. 

     

    The coolest thing would be if mini retro-rockets came out and it repulsively landed :)


     

    It'd be better if it just stopped and hovered mid-air.

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by muppetry View Post



    Interesting concept that I recall being discussed a year or two back. The issue with modifying angular momentum during a fall remains the need to know the exact height of the phone above the impact surface. That is the single, critical unknown. Without an ultrasonic method - mentioned as a more advanced enhancement - or something equivalent, it's hard to see how this can work.



    Good thing the camera is increasingly faster, it'd just have to learn to distinguish floors from ceilings.

  • Reply 17 of 48
    A patent for clumsiness. I guess Apple wants us all to become clumsy.
    Another useless comment. Is insurance there to make us bad drivers? Are warranties there to cover poor manufacturing? Nobody ever has an accident?

    cnocbui wrote: »
    Too heavy.  It wont be implemented.  Mass is mass.
    Guess you haven't seen the App Cycloramic, which uses the vibration motor to rotate your iPhone while on a table top to take 360 degree pictures. Without the friction of the iPhone resting on a surface (free fall) it could rotate even faster.
    cjcampbell wrote: »
    Uh, they could achieve the same thing by weighting the side they want it to land on.
    Someone should go back and look at their high school physics text. An object won't fall faster on the heavy side.
  • Reply 18 of 48
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,049member

    Reminds me of the Cubli

     

    image 

  • Reply 19 of 48
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,405member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cjcampbell View Post

    Uh, they could achieve the same thing by weighting the side they want it to land on. No motor, no computers, etc.

     


    You might want to take this up with Galileo...

  • Reply 20 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by EricTheHalfBee View Post





    Another useless comment. Is insurance there to make us bad drivers? Are warranties there to cover poor manufacturing? Nobody ever has an accident?

    Guess you haven't seen the App Cycloramic, which uses the vibration motor to rotate your iPhone while on a table top to take 360 degree pictures. Without the friction of the iPhone resting on a surface (free fall) it could rotate even faster.

    Someone should go back and look at their high school physics text. An object won't fall faster on the heavy side.



    If an object will not fall faster on the heavy side, then Apple's shifting weight mechanism wouldn't work, would it? And Spaceship 1 and badminton birdies won't fall nose first. Maybe someone needs to go back to their high school physics book and realize that we don't use iPhones in a vacuum.

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