Disney's smartwatch can identify what you touch

SMARTER WATCHES: Some possible applications of the smartwatch prototype, which can recognise objects that the user touches, include reminding the user of appointments when it detects that the user has touched his office door


    Nov 20, 2015

    Disney's smartwatch can identify what you touch

    WATCH out, Apple and Samsung. Disney is now making a bold move with smartwatches and it has a prototype that can recognise other objects that the user touches.

    This could then allow smartwatches to perform functions like reminding a user of appointments when a specific object is touched.

    The technique employed, called EM-Sense (electromechanical sense), makes use of the body's natural electrical conductivity to detect whether a person is touching an electrical or electromechanical device and, based on the distinctive electromagnetic noise emitted by such devices, automatically identifies the object. It also works with large metallic objects.

    Kitchen appliances, power tools, steel ladders, electronic scales, motorcycles and door handles with electrically triggered locks are among the items that can be detected and identified. It is also possible to differentiate different models of smartphones with the same technique.

    And the prototype is fairly spot on in figuring out what the user is touching, with a 96.1 per cent detection accuracy on average.

    This EM-Sense-capable smartwatch is the brainchild of researchers from the Disney Research Centre and Carnegie Mellon University. While it is in an early stage of development, the researchers have a greater vision for smartwatches and their ability to understand a person's habits and even the user himself.

    Alanson Sample, a research scientist at Disney Research, said: "We are now able to gain a greater contextual understanding of user activities by recognising what objects they are interacting with."

    This could also translate to smartwatches having a greater range of capabilities as a result of the user touching specific electrical objects.

    Some possible applications include automatically starting a timer when the wearer begins using an electric toothbrush, unlocking a laptop without a password when a user touches it, reminding the user of appointments when he opens the door to his office or playing the latest news when breakfast is being prepared as a user touches a fridge and a kitchen stove.

    Disney predicts that the range of capabilities will be even greater if the smartwatch is paired with mobile devices.

    Gierad Laput, a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, said: "This could be a great feature for smartwatches, making them much smarter than before."

    According to tech news site Ars Technica, the prototype Disney uses seems to be a heavily modified Samsung Galaxy Gear. Attachments include a "low-cost radio receiver" which acts as the EM sensor, an external box and a band of copper tape that connects to an antenna, among other add-ons.