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January 03, 2013

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Gets Patent for Smartphone Airbag -'Come on Baby Light My Fire'

I have been catching up on my intellectual property developments (dare I say “trolling for news?”), so pardon what may seem like a belated holiday season present that was granted to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in the middle of last month. 

Actually granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on December 11, Bezos shares credit with Amazon’s Gregory Hart for Patent #8,330,305, which is described as “a system and method for protecting devices from impact damage is provided. Prior to impact between a surface and a device, a determination of a risk of damage to the device is made. If the risk of damage to the device exceeds a threshold, a protection system is activated to reduce or substantially eliminate damage to the device.”

Further elucidation says that this “damage avoidance system” (DAV) involves using a smartphone's inbuilt motion sensors to detect a free-fall catastrophe which sends an emergency signal to a separate protective sleeve, which “deploys an airbag prior to contact."  Yes, you read that correctly, an airbag would be deployed to save what literally has become many peoples’ lives.

For those of you who enjoy a visual here are a few:

Source: Patent #8,330,305

Source: Patent #8,330,305

I am not going to catalog all of the fun the various gadget gurus have had on the Web with this. Let’s just say they all boil down to a message for Bezos that can be summarized in the term “get a grip.” From asking for thrusters so the device would hover instead of hit the floor to wondering how expensive it would be to put the airbag back once it has been deployed, speculation that this was a direct result of Bezos being digitally inept and not exactly dexterous, suffice it to say this one spread a ton of holiday cheer.

Not so fast with the frivolity

Before continuing I am going to make a few confessions. First, while I own a Kindle and a Kindle Fire and am a happy user, I do not own Amazon stock and call them as I see them.

Second, I met Jeff Bezos pre the Amazon IPO of 1997. He gave a talk to a small group of new media pioneers at believe it or not 30 Rock (in an old NBC studio), where he explained a few things. He told us Amazon would work because it was creating something in the virtual world, a massive inventory of books for sale not constrained by bricks and mortar or old business practices of the publishing business, and that the key to all e-commerce going forward would be based on that philosophy. He also said that he decided on books for his first venture because it met the criteria of having “a lot of stuff people desired that did not need to be physically sold in a store” and mainly because the music business had already been under attack and drugs was too difficult with too many liability and regulatory issues. He did note that he enjoyed reading.

I convey the above because Bezoz is not an obvious inventor. That said, I have learned the hard way, by not investing in the IPO or ever owning Amazon stock much to my chagrin these days, that being a skeptic of his is not financially rewarding. What strikes me about the patent is the concept and not the application. It may be very problematic as to whether the cost of making an inexpensive DAV for personal devices that can be easily rearmed is impractical, no matter where it is produced. However, the idea of sensors enabling risk avoidance before real damage is done to something as opposed to someone is intriguing. Imagine how low car insurance premiums might be if airbags did not deploy on impact but on a calculation that one was likely. They could be deployed to protect the car from damage as well as the people in it. 

This brings up what is going to be a huge trend in technology going forward: proactivity. Risk management is the order of the day from protection against cyber attacks to preparing infrastructure to avoid destruction from future Hurricane Sandy events, and to anticipating networking issues before little anomalies become massive headaches.   On the “customer experience” side of things we are also looking at “big data” as the way for advertisers to do better targeting and for consumers to have more perfect information as to their purchasing options. 

In short, another message to Bezos that is fair warning to others would be the words from the old classic rock song by the Doors, “Come on Baby Light my Fire!”

Edited by Jamie Epstein

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