Amazon patents noise-cancelling headphones that allow users to hear certain sounds

Amazon had been awarded a patent for a new design of noise-canceling headphones that could actively listen for distinct sounds - like sirens or someone shouting one's name and stop the noise-canceling functions of the headphones, allowing one to hear the outside world.

Noise-canceling technology works with the headphones using microphones to intercept incoming audio inputs from the outside world, and muting those frequencies, but the technology proposed by Amazon would analyse the incoming noise for specific trigger phases or sounds, and stop noise cancelation when it heard those input signals.

Amazon has already done extensive work in voice-recognition hardware and software through it's Amazon Echo platform, and this latest patent might be using inputs from those technologies.

Noise-cancelling headphones are great when it comes to blocking out the din of airplanes and trains, but they also isolated listeners from noises they might want, or need, to hear like the siren of an ambulance, a car honking, or someone calling out their name. Amazon's technology does precisely that.

According to the patent, the technology would analyse the sounds and selectively let them in. Amazon's design stated that when a speaker uttered a specific keyword or phrase, such as ''Hey Ben!'' the device would automatically suspend audio cancellation. It remains unclear whether the headphones would have pre-installed keywords, if users would choose from a list, or whether it was a fully customisable feature.

According to commentators, so far, the closest the industry had come to incorporating such a feature were manual pass-through buttons, where users could trigger a switch to turn noise cancellation on or off. With Amazon's technology, users are likely to have the option to turn noise-cancellation back on through audio or non-audio controls.

Amazon does not make any headphones currently, but it had ventured into keyword detection with Amazon Echo, a wireless speaker and the physical housing for the company's voice-controlled virtual assistant Alexa. One of the engineers who filed the patent has previously worked on the Alexa Information team, CNET reported.