ICAN Acoustics

Noise-canceling headphones are one of the greatest technological wonders of the modern world, letting you shut out all of the annoying people, background noise, blaring sirens, and annoying people.

But sometimes, living in a perfect sonic bubble isn’t a great idea. Anyone who uses particularly soundproof headphones has experienced the dance of a friend or co-worker desperately trying to get your attention while you blissfully ignore them from the depths of your musical Fortress of Solitude.


To try and solve this problem, Amazon has recently been awarded a patent for a new design of noise-canceling headphones that can actively listen for distinct sounds — like sirens or someone shouting your name — and stop the noise-canceling functions of the headphones, allowing you to hear the outside world.

Noise-canceling technology works by the headphones using microphones to intercept incoming audio inputs from the outside world, and muting those frequencies. The patent proposed by Amazon would simply analyze the incoming noise for specific trigger phases or sounds, and stop noise cancelation when it hears those input signals. Amazon already has done some extensive work in voice-recognition hardware and software through it’s Amazon Echo platform, making it possible that this latest patent is building off those existing technologies.

Soon, the dangers of walking along a street while wearing noise-canceling headphones could be gone forever, with Amazon’s new technology letting in sound whenever someone calls your name or a car horn is sounded. Or, since letting you suddenly hear every time someone honks their horn in New York City is a terrible idea, perhaps the future of personal audio involves hiring a dedicated manhole spotter to call out your name and save you from any potential falls or accidents.

At least, maybe that’s what your faithful manhole spotter will do, selflessly defending your life from sudden drops into sewers. Mine would probably just use the chance to join my friends in endlessly trolling me by shouting my name across a room to pause my music every few seconds. (Until manhole-spotting robots are invented to spot manholes for us, at which point I’ll have the last laugh.)

Despite Amazon having been granted the patent, we’ll have to wait and see if the voice-activated noise-canceling technology will actually end up in any future products.