The AirPods Pro 2 are expected to launch this year, and here's one of their possible features: automatically disabling noise cancellation. Apple has patented technology that would disable active noise cancellation (ANC) when the headphones recognise a contact's voice or a preset codeword, so the wearer wouldn't miss out on what was being said.
The patent – spotted by Apple Insider – is called 'Interrupt for noise-cancelling audio devices', and it specifically mentions headphones.
The problem is, it explains, that while ANC makes for "an enhanced listening environment" for audio from the headphones, it cancels out all exterior sounds, including those that you might want to hear. Imagine someone calling your name, for example, or shouting "Look out!" to alert you to an oncoming car.
The solution, the patent explains, is to predetermine certain people as "interrupt-authorised contacts" or to set codewords that, when recognised, disable the ANC. That way, if someone in your household is calling you to dinner, or a stranger in the street wants to stop you getting run over, the headphones can pick up on this, turn off the noise cancelling and alert you to what's being said.
But what if someone in your household is calling to someone else, and not the headphones wearer? There's a solution to that, too. To determine whether the wearer is the person being addressed, the headphones could analyse the voice volume and "time-of-arrival difference information" (i.e. how long it takes for the person's voice to reach you) to determine whether they need to cut out noise cancellation or not.
The iPhone paired with the headphones could also handle some of the processing necessary to determine whether the ANC should shut off. All very clever.
Of course a patent is no guarantee that Apple is pursuing this tech, let alone that it will be ready in time for the AirPods Pro 2. But it at least shows Apple recognises it as a use-case. And, if implemented well, it could make all the difference to the many AirPods Pro owners shut off from the real world's sounds, both wanted and unwanted.
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