Disney’s Watch Can Tell What You’re Holding, Opening Up World of Self-Contained Interactivity
Using electromagnetic signature detection, the EMSense watch can unlock laptops or electronic office doors with a touch
The EMSense technology developed by Disney and Carnegie Mellon University detects small amounts of electromagnetic signals to identify what your body is in contact with. Using a clever hack, it works with objects that emit an EM signal (which is close to everything electrical or electromechanical we touch today).
Disney’s technology isn’t about new hardware or new tech, it’s about working with what’s already there. Many electromagnetic objects, like a laptop touchpad or a doorknob, emit signals that are too weak for any particular use until now. The EMSense measures these trace amount of EM signals that propagate through the human body. The patterns form this detections can then be compared to a library for identification.
In the video, it showed that an electric drill will emit a different EM pattern than a circular saw or a toothbrush. In such devices, the amount of power to the motor also alters the EM pattern.
To better illustrate the potential impact of the technology to our daily lives, Disney built an EMSense-enabled smartwatch.
When you grab a toothbrush, the watch can tell and start a brushing timer. Once the watch detects you touching the stove to heat up your morning water, it can automatically stream the morning news. Once it senses your hands are on the handle bars of your motorcycle, it can call out estimated time of arrival.
In the office, touching doorknobs can make the watch remind you of upcoming meetings and tasks and once you lock your office doors after office hours, the watch can read out errands you might otherwise forget.
An obvious game-changing benefit of the technology is that it is very backward-compatible. You don’t need a Wi-Fi-enabled refrigerator, a high-tech car nor connected tools for the watch to work.
For many electronic devices, the EM signature changes with the power of the device. So in the case of electric drills or other power tools, the Disney smartwatch automatically turns into a guide for use telling you when the motor’s running too powerfully. When you touch the 3D printer, it will be able to tell what part of the process you’re in. Because it can tell if you’re touching your computer, it could also help you unlock your computer without having to type a password.