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Jeff Bezos

Airbags aren’t just for cars anymore — they may be coming soon to a cell phone near you.

We first reported the story about a patent for “a system and method for protecting devices from impact damage” invented by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Amazon VP Greg Hart last year. That patent was granted today.

So what the heck is this? It starts with a safety monitoring system that would use a gyroscope, camera, infrared beam, radar or other sensors to detect such things as motion, orientation and distance from other objects — then determine in a split second if the device is at risk of damage from impact.

One idea (shown in Fig. 2B above) is to embed one or more small airbags inside the phone, according to the filing. If the device is at risk of damage from a fall, the airbags would instantly inflate via an embedded cartridge of compressed air or carbon dioxide. The monitoring system could either detect which side of the phone will hit the ground, and deploy the airbag there, or pop airbags out of multiple sides of the device.

Will the Kindle soon have airbags to keep screens from being cracked?

The patent application goes further — suggesting the possibility of reorienting the device in the air, by expelling gas, so that it lands on the side where an airbag is deployed.

But wait, it gets even nuttier. In another example cited in the application, springs would be deployed instead of an airbag (Fig. 4 above).

And finally, the patent filing outlines a “propulsion element” that would also expel gas to “cause a gentle or safe landing” (Fig. 3 above). Inspired by Bezos’ Blue Origin spacecraft, perhaps?

The patent filing was originally submitted in February 2010, but became public in August of 2011. Whether or not this technology makes it to Kindle tablets or even an Amazon smartphone are up in the air, but at the very least, it’s more evidence that Bezos & Co. are thinking a lot about mobile devices these days.

Previously on GeekWire: It’s holiday shopping season, and Jeff Bezos is everywhere

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