Touch. It’s the sense we all take for granted, and perhaps the most complicated. It is formed from several sensations, including pressure, temperature and vibration, and it’s the one sense that artificial intelligence can only hope to achieve – at a human’s level, of course. Now, we’ve already seen the likes of haptic feedback in consumer electronics – a technology that senses touch in a user interface, to provide information to the end-user – but this isn’t the same concept described above. It requires input to work.
This leads us on to Disney Research. They have developed a new system that can distinguish between different objects through electromagnetic sound resonance, or to those uninitiated, the different vibrations objects give off when they are touched. The system can detect specific frequencies and attribute them to a material or an object.
Now, where this gets really exciting is how Disney Research has applied it. Disney Research has shown off their system, called Em-Sense, in a smartwatch. As we all know, a smartwatch is a daily companion for our wrists. It’s always there. This makes it the perfect device for Em-Sense, which can detect the objects you are touching. Disney explains: “Most everyday electrical and electromechanical objects emit small amounts of electromagnetic (EM) noise during regular operation.
When a user makes physical contact with such an object, this EM signal propagates through the user, owing to the conductivity of the human body. By modifying a small, low-cost, software-defined radio, we can detect and classify these signals in real-time, enabling robust on-touch object detection.” So for example, if you were to pick up a glass of orange juice, the watch would detect this and bring up nutritional information. Or if you were to open your car door, the watch would detect this and could bring up information such as economy, the amount of fuel in the tank, predicted range or anything else relevant. Or let’s simplify it – if you are typing on a keyboard, the watch would detect each click perfectly and calculate your CPM and WPM.
The system is, of course, a next-generation technology that’ll benefit from The Internet of Things (IoT). The potential uses here include your smartwatch automatically communicating with your tablet when you pick up a stylus to bring up the keyboard or an illustration app. All of which is incredibly exciting and a leap forward from current technologies, which require sensors to perform similar functions.