Noise-cancelling headphones can be great, especially if you don't want to deal with the noise of an airplane, a busy New York street, or a loud coffee shop. However, the main problem with noise-cancelling headphones is that they aren't very smart. They block out all noise regardless of what it actually is. And that can be an issue if there are some things you need to hear among the cacophony: a siren approaching in the distance, someone tapping you on the shoulder to tell you about something important or your order.
Flicking the noise-cancelling feature of your headphones on and off is way to handle this problem, but it's a bit cumbersome and it doesn't really help you for unexpected sounds you might want to hear. There's a better solution -- or, at least, there could be. According to a report from CNET, Amazon was recently granted a patent for noise-cancelling headphones that can intelligently separate noise you don't want to hear from sounds you do want to hear. It does so by automatically disabling the noise-cancelling aspect whenever it detects certain frequencies, sound patterns or even special keywords.
"Aspects of the disclosure provide suspension of noise cancellation at a noise-cancelling device using keyword spotting. In one aspect, a predetermined word or phrase can be spotted within an utterance received at the noise-cancelling device, and in response, noise cancellation can be suspended or otherwise terminated. The predetermined word or phrase can be specific to an end-user that utilizes the noise-cancelling device and/or a person that interacts with the end-user," reads Amazon's patent.
"In another aspect, interaction between an operator and the noise-cancelling device can be monitored after noise cancellation is suspended, and based at least on such interaction, a model for keyword spotting can be refined. In certain aspects, noise cancellation at the noise-cancelling device can be suspended or otherwise terminated in response to receiving a suspension directive via an electronic non-audio signal, for example, from a peripheral device. In other aspects, the noise-cancelling device can resume noise cancellation in response to a control signal."
Since this is just a patent, there's no guarantee that Amazon is actually making noise-cancelling headphones with this special technology built in. We don't know any other features the headphones have, or even how you might train the headphones to recognize certain keywords. We'd be interested to know if the headphones came with a pre-populated list of words they're triggered by, whether you could pick and choose these trigger words from a list, or whether you'd have to train the headphones to respond to phrases like "excuse me," "order" or "now serving."
This story originally appeared on PCMag