For just about as long as smartphones have had screens that crack, folks have been fantasizing about how to save them from that fate. In 2011, Jeff Bezos patented a method to protect a phone from a fall with jets of blasted air. In 2013, Honda showed off a giant phone case that was a literal airbag (as a joke). Neither have made it to market. But a design by a German design student looks like the most practical implementation so far.
Instead of using air, which would require pressurized gas or tiny superpowered jets, the “Active Damping” (AD) case designed by Philip Frenzel at Germany’s Aalen University uses eight, curved, springy feet that are stored flat, under tension. When the phone detects it’s in freefall, the feet launch out to absorb the shock and when all is said and done, they can even be folded back into the device.
The improvements that Frenzel’s design has over previous imagined solutions are pretty significant. It actually exists, for one. It’s also cheaper and less bulky than air-based systems given that it needs neither a system of jets nor a reservoir of compressed air. That, plus its reusability, means it might actually be able to protect your phone from enough screen-shattering drops to justify its cost.
There are a few glaring questions, however. How do you be sure this won’t go off in your pocket when you flop on the couch, or any other time the phone might appear to sensors to be in free fall, but is actually completely secure? Plugging into a phone’s built-in proximity sensor, which can tell whether or not its in a pocket for instance, might be a start, but that makes the project much more complicated than a case you can simply slap on, which is how the prototype currently works.
In the meantime, Frenzel has won an award from The German Society for Mechatronics, and has registered for a patent on his design in the lead up to a potential Kickstarter campaign in the coming months. Unless there are some good solutions to the slightly concerning parts of the design, it’s probably best to treat this as a novelty until it’s proven to be otherwise, but the concept is certainly promising. Of course, we might not need these sorts of Rube Goldbergian solutions to screen protection if phones were just more repairable in general. But if the current design trends are any indication, that seemingly simple solution is probably the more outlandish one to hope for.
Previously Published by: Popular Mechanics USA