Apple Works on iPhone Drop Protection

NEW YORK | Friday, March 22nd, 2013 3:59pm EDT

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.

A new Apple patent filing describes a variety of methods to protect a dropped iPhone during a fall, lessening damage through a number of clever systems. Photo: Nuno Quina/Flickr

Have you ever had to shell out big bucks to fix or replace a dropped iPhone? If so, Apple Inc.’s latest patent will be good news for you.

The Cupertino Company has begun to deal with the sad fate of a dropped iPhone, as Apple Insider has uncovered a patent that details a host of smartphone drop protection technologies.

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.

In order to work, the system needs a sensor or sensor array that can detect when a device is in free fall 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 free fall 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.

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, reports the Apple Insider.

Another aspect of the patent is a sort of on-board black box that would gather and store data about the fall and the impact, which Apple says in the patent, would be used by the device manufacturer to help gather info about how devices fall, so that they can use that info in future designs.

But of course such an on-board tool could also be used by technicians determining warranty repair status.

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.

Other methods mentioned look to counter the problem of a device being pulled onto the floor by a trailing power or headphone cable.

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.

Leaks about such a seemingly fanciful system may be met with some cynicism at a time when Apple is under fire for ceding ground to rival Samsung.

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

A phone that never smashed, however, would certainly capture the imagination of the smartphone-buying public.

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