scorecard Amazon wants to add an awesome new feature to noise canceling headphones
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Amazon wants to add an awesome new feature to noise canceling headphones

 Amazon wants to add an awesome new feature to noise canceling headphones
IndiaSmallbusiness3 min read

Amazon might be working on a system for noise-canceling headphones that would allow them to suspend their noise cancellation effect upon hearing select keywords.

At least, that much is suggested by a patent awarded to the ecommerce giant on July 19, and spotted by CNN earlier this week. Amazon first filed for the patent, titled "Suspending noise cancellation using keyword spotting," in July 2014.

amazon headphones patent


This is your obligatory reminder that a company's patent applications mean very little for its product roadmap. Amazon might deploy this sort of tech in a few years, or it might never see the light of day. It's a patent - nothing more, nothing less.

That said, Amazon at least has a modicum of interest in the idea, and the idea itself is interesting. The patent's claims describe a solution in which a noise-canceling device's microphones could use a "keyword spotting unit" to listen for predetermined words, temporarily cancel the noise cancellation upon hearing those words, then restart the noise cancellation again.

The claims makes specific mention of the device comprising "one of a noise-canceling headphone, a noise-canceling earbud, or a portable noise-canceling apparatus." They also note a way of associating a predetermined keyword with a person.

The patent's background description gets at why this might be useful. It states how noise-canceling headphones isolate their user from their environment, making it so "including the operator in a discussion with another party or otherwise attracting the operator's attention can be difficult or otherwise convenient."

What all this suggests is a future where someone could shout your name (or other phrases) and not be totally ignored while you're wearing your noise-canceling cans. This might make things safer, too - it probably wouldn't hurt to hear someone yelling the next time you're head-down and unwittingly walking into traffic.

The patent lists Mark Rafn and Benjamin Scott as its inventors. Both are currently software engineers for Amazon, according to their respective LinkedIn profiles, but it's worth noting that the latter specifically lists "Alexa Information" in his title. If this solution ever comes to pass, you'd think it'd make easier to chat with your Echo without removing your headphones.

bose quietcomfort 35

Tech Insider/Jeff Dunn

Bose's QuietComfort 35 noise-canceling headphones.

Amazon currently sells headphones for cheap through AmazonBasics, which effectively serves as its shop's store brand. It does not have a noise-cancelling model at the moment.

It's also worth remembering that headphones in general appear to be moving toward digital connections, such as USB Type-C and Apple's Lightning. One of the purported benefits of that shift is an ability to give "normal" headphones noise-cancelling functionality, which would feasibly make the concept a little more ubiquitous.

Still, noise-cancelling headphones are by nature a niche product - they require additional power (either through a battery or, eventually, your phone), tend to degrade sound quality, and can't cancel everything. Even Bose's QuietComfort cans let higher-pitched tones through. A tight-fitting pair of earphones still block out enough sounds for most people.

Nevertheless, there's at least some chance they're in for an upgrade.

Amazon declined a request for comment.

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