In a move that may just stoke a faint ember of optimism in anyone unlucky enough to have suffered from a case of smashed iPhone screen syndrome, Apple has filed a U.S. patent application for a protective mechanism that would "selectively alter a center of mass of" an electronic device, and which goes on to describe various aeronautics-inspired means by which a device such as an iPhone might self-right when dropped.

Wading into the specifics of the application, claim 9 describes a method for protecting a "vulnerable area" of a device by means of a sensor capable of detecting when the phone is in free-fall, its orientation when falling, and the likely point or area of impact. If necessary, a mechanism would then set about "selectively changing the orientation of the device."

Other claims suggest that the mechanism would alter the angular momentum of the device in free-fall using a weight connected to a motor. However, the application also describes an alternative "thrust mechanism" to change a falling device's orientation by evacuating compressed gas from a canister. The patent further describes how electronic devices could deploy "air foils" to alter the aerodynamics and speed of decent by producing lift. In the future, it seems, iPhones may come equipped with thrusters, parachutes or wings.

In an attempt to slow impact, or even prevent it entirely entirely, the patent describes possible "gripping members" that would turn power cords or headphone connectors into makeshift grappling hooks, perhaps with teeth or hooks that bind into the device in the event of dropping it.

The patent seeks to protect more than mere "areas" of devices. Buttons and switches may retract into the device's outer case, the application says.

Apple's reversion to an aluminum back addressed half the problem of smashed iPhone screens. With this patent application, it appears Apple may be seeking to eradicate the other half.

The patent seeks to cover "any type of electronic device" including MP3 players and laptop computers, though iPhone is the only specific Apple product name that appears in the patent.

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office, via Apple Insider