Apple is rumored to be experimenting with health-related AirPods upgrades, with heart rate measurement at the top of the wishlist. However, it appears that Apple also wants AirPods to save users from mishaps, particularly in areas where spatial awareness is critical, such as busy roads or construction sites. Apple describes a system that will automatically adjust audio levels to ensure that users don’t miss out on important audio cues from their surroundings, such as emergency alerts or a car honking around the corner, in a series of patents filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Apple’s patent for AirPods technology discusses using data such as a person’s speed and total distance traveled, in conjunction with positional data and sensor readings from other devices, to pause music playback or lower the volume level. This will be useful, especially if an emergency alert or other critical warning message is being played nearby.
The AirPods-based system will determine which direction the user is moving based on GPS data collected by the paired phone or Apple Watch, and will adjust the volume level on the left or right earbud to allow in ambient audio cues. The system may also play a set of alerts that have already been programmed into the software of iPhones or the Apple Watch, kicking in when a specific type of motion data is detected by the AirPods and connected devices.
A life-saver in the making
According to the patent, audio output from the AirPods could be paused or reduced in situations where “a user’s attention is required, such as in hazardous locations, on a job site, or in an educational facility.” Aside from motion activity (such as walking down the street or cycling), the system could also be activated in emergency situations such as flood alerts, accidents, and weather warnings, to name a few.
A specialized sensor is also mentioned, which would work in tandem with data provided by other sensors installed inside an iPhone or Apple Watch to monitor torso position and determine the best course of action. The patent does not mention the AirPods, as expected, but the words “wearable audio device” in an Apple patent don’t leave much room for imagination. Aside from protecting users from potential hazards, the system may also have health benefits. It could, for example, announce information about body posture during workouts.
Another Apple patent suggests that the company is considering a body posture detection system for the AirPods, which would provide real-time feedback for scenarios such as head tilt or torso stretch along an axis of rotation. However, keep in mind that these are patents, so the idea may or may not make its way to a commercially available device in the near future, all of which are subject to technical feasibility and cost allowances.