Disney Smartwatch Knows What You’re Touching and Tells You What to Do Next

Some smartwatches know your heart rate, and some know your location — but do any know what appliance you're using, or what door you're opening? A new device from Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University does just that, then gives intelligent feedback suited for just that item or place.

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For example, on touching the office door at the end of the day, the watch could remind you to pick up groceries on the way home. When you touch the stove at home, it can pull up a timer app or steps in a recipe you wanted to follow.

The system, called EM-Sense, works by carefully monitoring for the minute electromagnetic signals that propagate through your body whenever you touch anything — every object produces a different pattern, and the computer can be trained to recognize it. Combined with other information, it can guess that you're on your way to work, fixing a specific meal or working on a certain project in the shop.

Visualizations of characteristic responses from objects touched. Disney Research

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Right now EM-Sense requires a laptop to decode the information and relay that back to the smartwatch, but that's just for the proof of concept built by the team. It's unlikely any big smartwatch manufacturer is going to integrate this highly experimental software into next year's model, but it's a promising way to personalize a wrist-worn computer and make it a lot more useful day to day.

The research, led by CMU's Gierad Laput, was presented this week at the Association for Computing Machinery's User Interface Software and Technology Symposium in Charlotte, North Carolina.