AirPods security feature could turn off your music

Apple was granted a patent today for an AirPods safety feature that could detect when a wearer is at risk. AirPods can respond by pausing or lowering the volume of your music, so you can focus on the potential danger.

The patent also describes a possible smart training mat, which would detect the safety or effectiveness of your exercise…


Apple has been exploring the possibility of using existing sensors to add functionality to AirPods for some time.

For example, research with Cornell University showed how AirPods microphones could detect respiratory rate during or after exercise. This patent describes a potential way to mix data from AirPods and an iPhone or Apple Watch to add functionality.

AirPods security feature

In its patent document, Apple explains that AirPods can be great for entertainment or education, but they also come with risks.

Recent advances in wearable computing have provided users with an unprecedented amount of content to consume in almost any setting. Portable electronic devices, such as headphones, earphones, glasses, and the like, provide sound to a user substantially where and when they are. While this makes it easier for the user to choose, it has the unintended side effect of often capturing the user’s attention, or otherwise distracting them, in certain situations. This can impact a user’s safety as well as the safety of those around them.

Apple suggests that GPS data transmitted from an iPhone or Apple Watch could be combined with existing AirPods sensors to determine location and speed, and that one or both AirPods are in the ear.

For example, GPS data may indicate that you are walking quickly towards a busy intersection and have both AirPods in your ears, which means you may not be fully aware of traffic when crossing the road. In this situation, the AirPods may stop playing or reduce the volume. This would serve to alert you to potential danger, and better enable you to be aware of traffic movement.

When walking next to a road, the AirPods can only mute or reduce ear volume in front of traffic.

The direction of movement may indicate that a user is moving along a shoulder of a road with their right side facing the road (assuming the user is walking forward). Thus, the audio output to the right ear can be adjusted. If the motion data suggests the user is walking with their left side facing the road, the audio output to the left ear can be adjusted.

If your speed and movement indicate you’re riding a bike and the location data suggests the road is busy, your AirPods could automatically lower the volume to give you better situational awareness.

The patent even hints at even more intelligence.

[Data might include] language selected on an electronic device (to the extent that such language may provide a suggestion or indication as to a user’s country of origin).

For example, if it detects that you are in a country where people drive on the opposite side of the road to your home country, it may consider you more at risk when crossing roads and apply safety rules more stringent.

Smart exercise mat

The patent goes on to suggest that sensors in a smart workout mat could detect if you’re following an exercise instruction correctly, with your AirPods telling you when you’re not.

The sensor is positioned in or under an exercise mat; the context data includes a position of the user on the exercise mat; determining if the user is performing the activity correctly includes determining if the position of the user is the same as an expected position of the user; and the second audio output includes verbal instructions to correct the position of the user.

An obvious use for this would be Apple Fitness+ workouts, where the system knows what you should do and can feel what you are do and provide appropriate feedback. (“Hey, go ahead, you lazy!” maybe?)

As always with Apple patents, there’s of course no telling if any of this will ever come to market. Would you like to see these safety or smart AirPods exercise mat features introduced? Please let us know in the comments.

Via Apple Patent. Photo: Metin Ozer/Unsplash.

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