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article imageAmazon patents noise-cancelling headphones with hazard alerts

By James Walker     Jul 31, 2016 in Technology
Amazon has been granted a patent for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that can automatically mute themselves when in an emergency situation. They solve the problem of headphones disconnecting you from your surroundings, keeping you aware of hazards.
The patent, discovered by CNN, describes noise-cancelling headphones that listen for certain sounds and automatically mute themselves in response. Sounds such as a person shouting your name or the siren of an emergency vehicle will be detected by the headphones. Your audio will be muted and the noise cancellation disabled, allowing you to respond to the hazard.
The headphones would be programmable so you could also add your own words and phrases to disable the noise cancellation. The sounds would act as triggers and be detected by software similar to that used by voice recognition apps. It would work in the same way as the commands used to activate always-on digital assistants, such as Apple's "Hey Siri" and Google's "OK Google."
Noise cancelling headphones work by emitting a sound wave of a specific frequency. When the emitted waves meet the waves of sound from the environment, the two cancel out, preventing the ambient noise entering the ear and leaving music sounding clearer.
Most current sets offer no convenient way of temporarily disabling the noise cancellation though, giving you an all or nothing option. Some provide a manual override button, letting you disable it on request, but this doesn't help to warn you of an approaching hazard. Amazon's solution would solve this, cutting in at the right time to notify you of something you should probably be aware of.
Amazon doesn't currently make headphones. Its range of devices is fast growing though and it could branch into audio from its existing products. The engineers who filed the patent have previously worked on the Amazon Echo, the smart Alexa-powered speaker you control using your voice.
The new technology could also be integrated into the Echo, muting the speaker when someone else in the house is trying to attract your attention. While the patent filing is no guarantee Amazon's actively building the headphones, there appear to be several ways that the company could benefit from developing them.
The innovation would also be positive for the consumer. While noise cancellation offers greater immersion and clearer sound, it also leaves the headphone wearer isolated from their surroundings. In some situations, this can be an inconvenience, such as if somebody else needs to ask a question or request assistance. Noise cancellation can also cause more serious problems, leaving people unaware of traffic and emergency workers approaching from behind.
Automatically muting the audio and disabling noise cancellation in these scenarios would help people to stay safe. It could alleviate the problem of being distracted from the real world by loud music and smartphones, creating safer towns and roads where people are more aware of the others around them.
More about Amazon, Patent, Headphones, Audio, noise cancellation
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