Amazon patents noise-blocking headphones that turn off with a keyword

Last month, Amazon was granted a patent for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that listen for a specific keyword in order to suspend the noise-cancelling feature. They could, it seems, be set up with something like your name as the keyword, causing the headphones to suspend the noise-cancelling aspect whenever someone nearby says your name. The headphones can also listen for specific noises or patterns of noises — a car horn, perhaps, for extra safety while jogging.

The headphones, at least based on what the patent description says, would address a big safety issue in regards to outdoor use: not being able to hear important things when you need to. Noise-cancelling headphones are great for blocking out the unwanted noises of the exterior world, but a car horn when you're walking on the sidewalk, someone yelling your name, and other things could mean the difference between staying safe and getting injured.

Noise-cancelling technology like this would offer the best of both worlds, or at least something closer to it. Rather than having to choose between the risk of blocking all noise or the annoyance of letting all the noise in with your headphones, you'd be able to hear what you need to when you need via your headphones selectively cutting off the noise-blocking feature.

It's not entirely clear how the technology may work to avoid unnecessary triggers — you couldn't really use a car horn as the audio trigger, for example, because the headphones would constantly turn off noise-cancelling in the city. The patent suggests some type of second audio trigger may need to accompany the initial one to help avoid this issue.