Smart headphones will soon be a thing

Amazon is working on noise-cancelling headphones that could one day save your life.

Meryl D'Souza August 9, 2016

A noise-cancelling set of cans is a godsend when you want to drown out the crowd and listen to the earworm of the summer.

However, it’s not particularly ideal to be in your musical Fortress of Solitude when you're crossing the road or when you're at the office, causing your colleagues to vigorously shake their hands around just to get your attention.

Luckily for all of us, Amazon was recently granted a patent for smart headphones that will know when it’s time to turn the music down, as well as up. Amazon’s headphones are capable of detecting key sounds such as sirens or someone calling out to you, and briefly halt the noise-cancelling functions.

Noise-cancelling headphones work by using microphones to intercept audio inputs from the outside world, and muting those frequencies. Amazon’s headphones would simply be able to analyse these sounds, or specific trigger phases or sounds, and stop noise cancelation when it hears those input signals. 

It remains unclear whether the headphones will have pre-installed keywords, if users will choose from a list, or whether it is a fully customisable feature. And although the e-commerce giant hasn’t made a decent pair of headphones before, it has done some extensive work in voice-recognition hardware and software through it’s Amazon Echo platform, making it possible that this latest patent is building off those existing technologies.

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 would make easier to chat with your Echo without removing your headphones.

Noise-cancelling headphones are still a fairly niche product – they require additional power (either through a battery or your phone), tend to degrade sound quality, and can’t cancel everything. Still, with most smartphone manufacturers planning to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack, there’ll be a rise in Bluetooth and noise-cancelling headphones in the near future.

According to a University of Maryland study, serious injuries and fatalities amongst all headphone-donning pedestrians tripled from 2004 to 2012. And while we understand that not all patented technologies turn into products, if these headphones are to one day hit shelves, they could save lives. There’s never been a better reason to start inventing.