It is not the first time that online retail giant Amazon has developed sophisticated listening technology after the creation of the voice-controlled speaker, Amazon Echo two years ago. But with this new venture, Amazon is in process of designing noise-cancelling headphones that respond to certain pre-programmed keywords, such as your name.
The headphones would work by selectively listening out for certain sound patterns. Noise-cancelling headphones are fitted with microphones that listen for sound coming from the outside world such as traffic or construction work and mute these frequencies so that the wearer can enjoy their music without outside distractions. Amazon’s proposals suggest that the headphones would listen out for a keyword or trigger word, such as the wearer’s name and temporarily disable the noise-cancelling capabilities so that the wearer would be able to hear activity from the outside world for a short period of time.
Amazon has recently received a patent for their plans, and documents suggest that the same temporary suspension of the noise-cancelling function could also be programmed to be triggered by a non-audio, electrical noise such as a door bell or phone ringing.
The new invention will potentially combat some of the criticism associated with noise-cancelling headphones. Critics have highlighted the danger of being unable to hear hazards including emergency service sirens, traffic noises and other potential dangers to the individual.
The patent documentation lists Mark Rafn and Benjamin Scott, Amazon software engineers, as inventors. The company created similar technology in 2014 for Amazon Echo, the interactive speaker that allows users to interact with a voice activated virtual assistant called Alexa. The device uses microphone technology to listen out for ‘Hey, Alexa’ before starting up. The device is able to recognise the command even when Echo is playing loud music or when there is other background noise.