Amazon has plans for headphones that mute themselves in an emergency

How about some smart noise-cancelling headphones?

The world of patents is always an interesting one to peer into - they can often reveal clues about some of the ideas companies are kicking around before they're prepared to make those ideas public.

In that spirit we present to you some new patents filed by Apple and spotted by CNN: noise-cancelling headphones that will automatically respond to certain sounds, like a car horn, or an emergency siren, or someone shouting out your name.

If it sounds like you're in danger, the headphones will let the sounds of the real world back in, potentially saving you from a life-threatening situation. Microphones embedded in the cans listen out for key sounds - just like your iPhone listens out for "hey Siri".

Hey Alexa

Amazon doesn't make any headphones right now, but CNET reports that the Amazon engineers who've filed the patent have previously worked on the Alexa AI that helps power the Amazon Echo.

It's possible that Amazon wants to expand its hardware empire or perhaps it's looking to introduce this kind of smart listening functionality to its existing devices. Patents don't always develop into fully fledged products so it might be some years before we see something like this (if we ever do).

The patent is clearly designed to combat the growing problem of digital distraction: focusing so much attention on our phones and the entertainment they offer that we miss what's going on in the real world. Now where are those Pokémon?

Here's our review of the Amazon Fire TV:

David Nield
Freelance Contributor

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.