A patent in his name has been unearthed, which is titled "PROTECTING DEVICES FROM IMPACT DAMAGE". After a fair bit of hot air blowing to defend the need for such an invention, like providing statistics how one in every three phones has been damaged during its first year of ownership, and that repairs cost at least $25, amounting to billions of dollars, the filing gets to the solution:
To illustrate a specific example, a cellular phone (a portable device) may be equipped with a damage avoidance system that includes a safety monitoring system and a protection system. If the user drops the cellular phone, the safety monitoring system, through use of various detection elements described below, determines that the device is no longer in contact with the user, measures a distance from an approaching surface (e.g., ground) and determines a velocity toward that surface. Based on the collected information, the safety monitoring system determines whether the risk of damage to the cellular phone, that will be caused by the impending impact, exceeds an acceptable threshold. If the safety monitoring system determines that the risk of damage exceeds the acceptable threshold, the protection system is activated. The protection system, in this example, causes the device to be reoriented and deploys an airbag prior to contact such that the airbag first contacts the surface at impact. Instead of the cellular phone directly impacting the surface, the airbag absorbs the impact and cushions the cellular phone so that damage is reduced or substantially eliminated."
How will the cell phone "measure a distance from an approaching surface" before it hits the pavement you'd ask? "The distance detector 108 can use a sound or light generator/source (e.g., radar, sonar, laser, and infra-red) in conjunction with a receptor/receiver to capture the reflection of the generated sound or light wave to determine/calculate the distance between portable device 100 and the surface."
The patent filing goes on with some wide-eyed examples how image recognition, x-rays, or infrared can help to even determine the type of surface your tablet or smartphone is flying to, like concrete, or your mattress, and decide if it should deploy the airbag.
This system seems to rely on so many variables, that we have to see something fine-tuned to believe this is possible. It might take something quad-core to be able of calculating within a split second that your phone has lost contact with the pressure sensors and hurling through the air at dangerous speeds, then measure the distance to the surface it is about to come in contact with, and determine if the hardwood floor is worth deploying the airbag for. Plus, try stuffing all these modules in a handset the thickness of the Samsung Galaxy S II, for instance. It helps to dream, though - the upcoming Amazon tablets might turn out indestructible, if Jeff Bezos has his way.
source: USPTO via AndroidandMe