US Trademark Office approves Apple patent that would give iPhones cat-like reflexes

Update: Though it was first filed over a year ago, Apple’s patent for intelligent dropping tech was approved earlier this week. On Tuesday (12/2/2014) the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved a patent filed by the company that would “[alter] the center of mass of the electronic device by moving the mass in the protective mechanism in response to detecting the freefall of the electronic device.” It’s still unclear if Apple actually has plans to implement this technology in its phones anytime soon, but it’s certainly an intriguing prospect. This article was originally published October 11, 2013.

Ever notice how falling cats somehow always land on their feet, and dropped toast will invariably hit the floor buttered-side down? Well what if you could harness that voodoo and install it in your gadgets? In the near future, this may very well become possible. If the technology described in a recent patent filed by Apple ever makes it past the conceptual phase, the next generation of iPhones could potentially be able to control how they hit the ground.

Patent No. 20130257582, otherwise known as “protecting an electronic device,” is basically a broad set of schemes that Apple has devised to keep your phone from landing on its screen or other vulnerable areas. The document outlines a number of different methods that could ostensibly be used to make this happen, and while some of them seem reasonable, others are just downright ridiculous

iphone moiton control dropIn Apple’s words, the core idea is this: “The electronic device may include a processor, a sensor in communication with the processor, and a protective mechanism in communication with the processor. The protective mechanism is configured to selectively alter a center of mass of the electronic device.” In plain English, this basically means iPhones could be equipped with a drop sensor processor similar to the ones already used in Apple laptops. Then, if a phone senses that it’s falling, the drop processor would communicate with a small motor to shift the phone’s internal weight and control which side it lands on. All of this would take place in a matter of seconds as your phone plummets to its doom.

Not a bad idea, right? Given the fact that the iPhone 5S is already equipped with a discrete motion processor and a small motor used for vibration, this doesn’t seem that far out of reach. With some creative programming, this could totally be possible. But other parts of the patent aren’t so reasonable.

Another section outlines a system that employs jets to create an “air cushion” beneath the phone just before it hits the ground.  The phone would use the same drop motion sensor to determine when it’s falling, but rather than shifting it’s weight and orientation, it would release pressurized gas to slow the phone down before impact. If you think that sounds ridiculous, keep reading. Later on in the document there’s a section where Apple talks about using an electric ion propulsion system to decelerate the phone as it falls.

It’s hard to tell how much of this to take seriously since Apple and other big tech companies tend to file outlandishly broad patents so they can claim ownership in the event that any of these ideas actually materialize in the future. But there are definitely a few good concepts in here. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for smart-drop technology in the iPhone 6. For the time being, however, it looks like we’ll just have to stick with good ol’ fashioned rubberized cases.

Computing

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.
Gaming

Last gen had some hits! Take a look at the best PS3 games of all time

Choosing the right PlayStation 3 game can be a conundrum, especially when there are nearly 1,500 titles to choose from. Thankfully, we've rounded up the best games to have ever made it to the platform.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Mobile

The best protective iPhone cases to defend against dirt, dings, and drops

If you’re going off-road or work outdoors, it could be a good idea to invest in a tough case. These are our picks of the best protective iPhone cases for all iterations of the iPhone, from the iPhone XS to the 7.
Business

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.
Computing

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 
Business

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.
Emerging Tech

Tombot is the hyper-realistic dog robot that puts Spot to shame

Forget Boston Dynamics’ Spot! When it comes to robot dogs, the folks behind a new Kickstarter campaign have plans to stake their claim as makers of man’s (and woman’s) newest best friend.
Emerging Tech

Researchers gave alligators headphones and ketamine, and all for a good cause

Researchers in Germany and the United States recently gave ketamine and earphones to alligators to monitor how they process sounds. Here's what it reveals about alligator evolution.