No more cracked iPhones? Apple patents mid-air rotating ‘cat phone’ to soften falls

No more cracked iPhones? Apple patents mid-air rotating ‘cat phone’ to soften falls
The US Patent and Trademark Office has issued Apple a patent for a device that detects that a phone is about to hit the ground, and rotates it to limit damage – though it is unclear if such a contraption already exists.

The iPhone protection system itself will consist of two parts – the detection and the rotation. The mechanism may be activated when the device is falling or in a free-fall mode.

In the first, the phone detects the fact that it is rapidly falling downwards and identifies its distance and angle from the ground. To do this, the broadly-worded patent says it will take advantage of the components, most of which are already present, such as the “accelerometer, gyroscopic sensor, distance or position sensors (e.g., radar, ultrasonic, and the like), location sensors (e.g., global position system, compass), image sensors (e.g., camera), sound or audio sensors (e.g., speakers, microphones) which may be used as a sonar combination.”

It is likely that combination of the different sensors that will be responsible for the effective implementation of that function, and the patent describes a sequence in which they are activated to land on the “mathematically least vulnerable” part of the phone.

The second part of the job is actually changing the phone’s trajectory.

Propelling it through the air is easy enough, and can be done with the motor used to make the phone vibrate, though Appleinsider, which first discovered the unpublicized patent, said that the current model uses a different mechanism to what is depicted in the patent. The patent also allows for more exotic means of propulsion, such as a gas canister secured inside “that may deploy the compressed gas outside of the device to change its orientation.”

To produce the perfect feline landing, the force used has to be precisely calibrated, but the patent says that the phone may collect data, to produce a memory bank of sudden impacts.

The application for the invention was actually filed in September 2011, and features illustrations of what appears to be an iPhone 4, but is otherwise applicable for the current phone line. The invention is credited to Fletcher Rothkopf, who submitted the patent for the iWatch, and Nicholas V. King, another top Apple engineer, with dozens of inventions to his credit.

The patent is unlikely to have come out of sheer creativity.

Both anecdotally, and empirically, iPhones and other Cupertino-designed devices have endured a poor reputation for being fragile, and liable to suffer extensive damage, from limited impact.

A scientifically-tested list of ten breakable gadgets published by insurer SquareTrade back in April had 4 items made by Apple, with the iPad mini at the top of the list, which also featured the then-latest iPhone iterations.

But the company appears to have turned the corner with the latest generation phone, with iPhone 6 achieving the accolade of “least breakable phone ever” in SquareTrade’s robot-administered September tests.

All this has happened without the new stabilizing device, suggesting that Apple has perhaps gone for the more traditional values of sturdier building materials and better engineering, as opposed to complex technological solutions. If this is indeed the case, we may not see the ‘cat phone’ – at least for a few more years.

Diagram: United States Patent and Trademark Office