Amazon’s smart noise-cancellation switch could literally be a lifesaver

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There’s no product or even a product announcement yet, but a new Amazon patent that intelligently suspends noise cancellation could be a lifesaver.

Noise-canceling headphones can be a blessing when you want relief from a noise-laden background. The steady cacophony of trains, planes, and automobiles can be tiresome, especially if you’re trying to rest or concentrate. There are times, though, when this can put you in danger because, along with all that unwanted noise, warning sounds are also blocked. A recently published patent awarded to Amazon Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of Amazon.com, describes technology to suspend noise cancellation when specified sounds are detected, as reported by International Business Times.

Titled “Suspending Noise Cancellation Using Keyword Spotting,” the patent describes several ways in which the technology could be implemented. One common scenario could be the use of a person’s name. Noise-canceling headphones with keyword spotting technology, for example, could temporarily suspend or shut off noise suppression when someone calls your name. Other applications could be based on the sounds of bells or alarms, train station announcements, or a ringing phone or doorbell. You could also potentially program the device to hear someone say, “Excuse me” when trying to get your attention.

The patent also refers to the ability of the device to learn, or “refine,” noise-cancellation suspension based on interactions and actions that happen after the switch-off. For example, if you immediately switched noise-cancellation back on after a device-activated suspension because the incoming keyword or audio signal wasn’t correctly recognized, in theory, the system could learn from the mistake. Sirens and other audible alarms could be used to trigger the “off” switch as well as non-audio signals received from peripheral devices.

As the International Business Times mentioned, just because a company is awarded a patent doesn’t mean it’s going to produce a product that uses it. This technology, however, does have an interesting business case to offer by adding a much-needed level of protection to noise-cancellation devices.

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