Microsoft once considered putting an electric shocker in its wearables

One of the last remnants of Steve Ballmer’s legacy at Microsoft surfaced this week in a patent filing originally filed early last year seeking the rights to a notification mechanism for wearable devices that administers electric shocks in the name of convenience. The logic is surprisingly sound, if you can ignore the constant prospect of a zap interrupting your routine every now and then.

Traditional audio alerts work fine for calls, but when your smartwatch is also configured to receive emails, updates from work and news in half a dozen feeds, having an intrusive buzz go off every time something crosses the wire becomes a lot less practical. That leaves vibrating alarms, which in turn fall short in the other scenario where wearables are finding the most use nowadays: sports.

A small electric shock, in contrast, can be felt clearly and unambiguously regardless of whether you’re in the middle of a jog or working away on your computer at a noisy  office. The filing notes that the approach could come useful in much more specialized situations as well, like when a person wearing an augmented reality headset enters a bright environment that makes it difficult to display a notification in their field of view.

But as effective as it might be in theory, a human shock collar – even if implemented in the form of a wristband or in a piece of clothing – probably wouldn’t go down too well with consumers. As a result, there’s not much chance that the invention will ever find its way into its wearables, especially not under the new leadership. But it was, apparently, considered seriously enough at point under Steve Ballmer’s reign to have the merited the expenses of filing a patent.