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Mobile Airbag Deploy When Device Is Dropped (imgur.com)
206 points by billconan 12 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments

At first glance it looks fairly similar to the diagram in this one: https://patents.google.com/patent/US7059182B1/en

There was also this Bezos patent that made the news a few years back with actual airbags: https://patents.google.com/patent/US20110194230A1/en

I'm certainly no patent lawyer and don't have any sense of how different such a device would have to be to be non-infringing and novel enough to patent. In any case, congratulations to him for actually building a working prototype.

Good find on that first patent - it's pretty much exactly the same thing unless the sensor and control mechanism are somehow quite a bit different. It wouldn't stop Chinese case manufacturers from making this, but this would make it pretty difficult to get a new patent for what's shown in the video.

Fun rumor: I hear the Bezos patent was actually submitted to “secretly” cover Blue Origin’s reusable lander designs. Drawing it to look like a phone is a means of camouflage.

Technically a capsule can qualify as a “mobile device”

I had the same idea years ago and this exact patent is why I never got farther than a patent search.

This amazing airbag contains neither air nor bags! But I really can't think of a better, clearer word for it.

Shock absorbers. Impact buffers. Phone springs. Bouncy bumpers. Splat stoppers. Impact immunity. Crash catcher.

Springy thingies.

Splatty bouncers

Inertial dampeners

Landing struts

Shock absorber? In any case, I'd like to see higher drop tests. Wonder if it would have helped a week ago, when I dropped my phone while rock climbing and it shattered on a slab ~150 ft below.

That's probably not a very common occurence - wouldn't a lanyard do a better job there? (instead of "I dropped it and it landed somewhere in a 100 ft radius, probably in multiple pieces" it would be "I dropped it and now it hangs right there, 1 ft away")

> That's probably not a very common occurence - wouldn't a lanyard do a better job there?

Nope, little plastic arms

I'm not replying to what you think I'm replying. To summarize: little plastic arms are not useful against dropping a phone from 150 ft. Because: 1. they are not made to absorb a shock that large, 2. even if, the phone would bounce, 3. even then, you're looking for a phone in a fairly large area. Easier not to drop it all of 150 ft in the first place; most people dropping phones do so from human-comparable heights, and that's where the little plastic arms are useful.

Clearer now?

The tricky thing with a lanyard or tether is then keeping the phone in my pocket while climbing and not having a trip hazard. If there was a way to attach the tether to the inside of the pocket then that would work.

Aha, that is indeed one thing I haven't thought of (amongst many others, I'm sure).

That doesn't capture the intent here, though, which is that they "deploy" in response to a "crash".

“In any case” Haha I see what you did there

Maybe you should have attached a parachute?

Expecto Patronuses?

It would be really awkward if this was in your pocket and you decided to plop onto a couch

That's trivial to fix, just don't activate it when the proximity sensor says it's still in your pocket.

Though I can imagine some other false positive scenarios; like when you intentionally toss your phone onto a soft surface like your bed. The added protection is probably worth the minor inconvenience of having to reset the mechanism every time that happens though.

The retracted springs take up a ridiculous amount space in the phone's case; don't expect this in your device any time soon. (By which I mean: ever). A version for laptops could be fantastic.

The shock absorption capacity is greater than necessary; experience shows that a simple silicone bumper is effective. The device can take a certain number of G's; it's not exactly an egg. A bumper also reduces drop incidents by providing grip. (Aluminum cases can dent through a bumper, though.)

A simple through hole or other means of strap attachment allowing a phone to be put on a string takes less space. "Bungee cord for your phone!" Cameras have strap attachments; it didn't catch on for phones due to the obsession with smooth design, perhaps.

Strap attachment holes can still sometimes be seen on Japan-market phones[0] and phone cases. Even if the "cute charms" strap market of the 00's is mostly gone they're still handy for standard camera-style straps or even lanyards for people on the job.

[0] e.g. this Fujitsu phone https://cas.nttdocomo.co.jp/flcache_data/product/catalogue/s...

Yeah, there's obviously room to improve the design and make it less bulky. In principle though, this actually looks quite practical.

Existing protective cases are bulky and detract from the aesthetics of the more high-end phones, and a bungee cord would be really inconvenient; it'd get in the way when using your phone and you'd have to detach it every time you want to step away for a bit.

My wife's phone and my daughter's have straps. They are built into the case. They swear by them.

phone goes in and out of pockets too often for it to be attached by a bungee cord ... that'll never work either

Cord terminates in or near the pocket. Could be self-retracting onto a little spring-loaded winch.

People had pocket watches on chains in the Victorian era.

Have you seen how bulky otter cases are?

There is a different psychology there, because the otter case comes off; it is like clothing for the phone.

The protection is not exactly the same; a case doesn't protect just against falls, but general wear and tear. There are situations in which your device can be damaged which do not involve a fall and deployment of the springs.

This looks very clever, but also like it could take an eye out if it deployed while the phone was held up to your face (or, indeed, was dropped while held over your face).

I'm very fond of the concept, but I think the implementation needs a lot of work.

It could probably deploy some more "eye friendly" prongs in the future. Probably some that weren't shaped like knifes.

> more "eye friendly" prongs

This is a scary collection of words.

It doesn't deploy the prongs until the device has been in free fall for a certain amount of time. So don't hold your phone high above your face :-)

This reminds me of the airbag for cyclists that's designed to replace your helmet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjygqMULVmw

It's a cool concept, but at €299 I'd rather just use a normal helmet.

These have become quite popular in Sweden. According to the manufacturer, they're not just smaller, but offer much better protection from head injuries than regular helmets. Insurance companies in Sweden seem to believe it; many of them will pay for the replacement if the airbag triggers due to a fall. This is one of the helmet's main selling points.

I was in the queue to buy one, message of those popping without accidente - e.g. someone just opens the door to his home - made me not buy one.

i have a friend who used one for months, he felt safe as ever. then someone told him he had to charge the batteries...

luckily he didn't fall before realizing. funny story though

It's there to save your life potentially. €299 seems cheap in that regard.

My $50 polystyrene lid does that too.

Regardless, they're not legal in Australia, so even if I wanted to, I couldn't use one.

What is not legal? Is the helmet mandatory in Australia and airbag is not a legal replacement, or are head-airbags illegal?

Yep, helmets are mandatory in Australia for all riders, and the airbag isn't certified as a helmet in Australia.

Are there more, less, or an equal number of bikes around now, after such legislation was passed?

A bunker is also used to potentially save your life, but you don't have one of those either? (I assume)

George Washington cosplay on impact

I am not sure I'd like my phone to do this in my pocket while riding a roller coaster.

It looks like it just releases the little arms which are spring-loaded. It shouldn't even open in your pocket.

Would also be pretty easy to use the proximity sensor to avoid that type of false positive.

What would be harder to avoid would be unnecessary deployment when you intentionally toss your phone onto a soft surface, like your bed. (Though the fact that this mechanism is reusable makes that much less of a concern.)

If you fall with the device, the device thinks it's falling.

From the look of the speed that it opens, yes it would probably hurt if it opened in your pocket.

Not necessarily, all it needs is for the legs to be spring loaded lightly. Anything enclosing the phone would simply stop the legs from deploying. Near an eye is a different matter though, the legs move faster than you can react to, and their shape is such that it could be a real problem. At a minimum they should be made from much softer material to begin to address that concern, and the 'top' legs (the ones most likely to deploy near your eye) should deploy after the bounce has been detected.

It depends a lot on how much force the springs exert.

People who downvoted you don't know basic mechanics.

They might know advanced mechanics.

The statement was: If you fall with the device, the device thinks it's falling.

I'd like to know which laws of "advanced mechanics" this invalidates.

There were two statements, this was the other one:

> From the look of the speed that it opens, yes it would probably hurt if it opened in your pocket.

Which is definitely not supported by how that device has been constructed. It's not as if there are large torque servos operating those flippers, you can clearly see the mechanism is spring loaded and so the fabric will contain the device without any injury. Making the springs so strong that you could be injured is silly.

Why would a roller coaster trigger it? Very few of them (if any) cause you to experience 0 G, which is the trigger here.

Even "drop" type coasters usually have enough friction to keep it from being 0 G.

Bungee jumping might do it.

The only one I can think of is Oblivion at Alton Towers. The main feature is a vertical drop section.

Not perfectly vertical, and you still have friction of the wheels on the track.

note that also phones have air friction, so it might not be discernible

Yup. My phones tend to drop along ballistic trajectories, which is rarely a straight line towards the Earth-Moon barycenter ;)

Could use proximity sensors to detect when it’s in a pocket (or next to a face) and not deploy.

How often do you ride roller coasters?

Probably just once with this in your pocket?

Same for bungie jumping, trampolines etc.

In fact, I wonder if this wouldn't be a problem with any fall, say on ice etc.

Having your phone on your person while you are in a roller coaster is something that I can understand but it would not be near your face (are there people dumb enough to take selfies while in a roller coaster?).

But bungie jumping and trampoline jumping should not be done whilst you have anything on your person (keys, phone, wallet). You could easily end up hurt even without an airbag.

Most (all?) roller coaster operators require that you have no phone in your pockets before you sit down. It’s not just the risk of an idiot trying to take a selfie, the phone could simply come out of your pocket during the ride.

High speed impact x gorilla glass x crowds = ugly.

I rode 12 different roller coasters this past Monday, not one required empty pockets, however it was an option to store pocket items in a bin on one of them. I'm realizing as I write this you probably mistyped your... I did take a picture of the Lake Erie islands, and one of Sandusky Bay on a coaster, was probably not wise however. It was interesting to see how Cedar Point is using Samsung smartphones phones & GearVR headsets to breath new life into one of it's oldest coasters, by far the coolest VR experience I've tried.

I've been on dozens of coasters across multiple parks and I've never seen one that requires you to remove your phone from your pocket before riding.

Loose items like hats, jewelry, flip-flops, sure. Items in your pocket? Not so much.

The answer to "Are people dumb enough to take selfies doing X?" is "If there is no (implied) IQ test to get to do X, they will sooner or later."..

It's a sorry state, and as far as trampolines go, I'd consider it find as long as it does not impair your movement or hurt you if you land on the pocket, and it's tight enough to not fall out of the pocket if you were to walk on your hands upside down.

are there people dumb enough to take selfies while in a roller coaster?

I can't find the exact photo at the moment, but I remember one of ads for a phone I came across did contain one.

Also, a quick search for "roller coaster selfie" shows exactly what you'd expect...

Use light sensor in addition to accelerometer.

The system seems to be a cover with no connection with the phone itself. It relies solely on the internal accelerometer so basically it can trigger the deployment if you jump or find yourself in any 0G situation even for a short period of time (it looks very sensitive anyway).

What if you drop it at night?

Phones have pocket detectors already. They use infrared distance sensors mostly.

...and the complexity increases by orders of magnitude. With all the decision logic, the added latency might register as "drop...thud...oh hey, weren't we supposed to deploy something?...legs deploy"

I think you grossly overestimate how much latency another variable to the decision logic would add. Keep in mind that this is computed onboard, not by bluetooth to the phone or anything. So it can be done by a dedicated chip checking 100 times a second if accelerator value ~= 0G and a proximity sensor detects nothing.

The previous comment noted that "phones have [suitable sensors]". Duplicating those in the board would work, but even then - checking every 10 ms will mean a far higher battery drain (and yes, we've just complicated everything at least one order of magnitude, this point still stands).

Not reliable enough for a mass production solution.

This is an absolutely beautiful solution. Respect.

I initially thought the article was going to describe someone's OnStar caused the airbags to deploy in their Malibu when they dropped their iPhone.

I was moderately dismayed this was not what happened, but the device is nevertheless really cool and may have some practical applications.

It's a really great concept. This would however be quite scary to have deploying against your face which would be a no-go for me. I do occasionally drop my phone and the case I have does a good job. What I worry about is dropping it on a brick or stone where the impact is centered in the middle he screen.

I don’t have a case and have dropped (and thrown) mine. As long as you’re not throwing it directly into the ground the iPhone is honestly pretty sturdy.

6,234,123 shattered iPhone screens and back plates beg to differ

A phone that can survive a given fall 4 times out of 5 is pretty sturdy - but own and use it long enough, you'll hit the 1/5 eventually.

Yes, normal cases protect very well against drops on flat surfaces but can be foiled by a misplaced rock. This video doesn't show how the "airbag" handles that scenario though.

It is cool and possibly quite useful. Definitely a good engineering challenge/project. Others have already pointed out some safety issues and a few others have then questioned likely are those scenarios.

For me though one of the big downsides would be while traveling. This thing would never be allowed through airport security as a carry-on. It looks like mini knife like objects encased in a soft rubber casing. Yes, one can always take it off and store it in a checked-in bag. But if you forget then you will be forced to choose between dumping it or not boarding the flight. Not to mention the extra cavity search one might get as a bonus.

Nice, now it needs some armor casing and it will be just like a cockroach. My pocket surveillance device will now be impossible to destroy!

Everyday I throw my phone onto my bed when I get home, I'm not sure how I feel about this product.

I thought about a similar solution about a year ago, but mine involved embedding small spring loaded pins into the front, back and sides of phone that would pop up when the phone was dropped.

> Talking on phone while walking

> Trips over

> Metal spike/pin into temple

Please. The pins would be dull and rounded.

I don't get it. Isn't rubberized case a far better solution?

Smaller, lighter, and fewer moving parts.

A rubberized case wouldn't protect as much. ie, the phone feels more impact from a similar fall except for maybe multi-story drops where most cases don't do anything anyway. Also, this protects the screen from falling onto an uneven surface (think gravel) whereas a rubber case won't help at all, even if it includes one of those annoying plastic screen covers

Also, cases without bulky screen protectors can't adequately protect curved displays, which are increasingly common nowadays, from falls on non-level surfaces.

It's almost as if that's a stupid design.

Unfortunately, it's the consumer that pays for that, literally, since they'll have to buy a new phone if it breaks (a win for manufacturer, so long as they buy the same one anyway).

What problem does this solve? Prevent aluminium dents? I've dropped my unprotected phone so many times I don't even know how people manage to damage their screens.

Well we've been thrown out of the Worldcup as Group Last, but we've at least got him to come up with a solution to one of the worlds most visible customerfacing problems in consumer electronics. I'd consider this a bottomline win for Germany.

How are these even remotely related?

Time. It's how we group many information.

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