New technology for the Internet of Things (IoT) uses the human body as an antenna for determining which objects a user is touching. The technique, called EM-Sense, recognizes objects by their distinctive electromagnetic emissions. These waves propogate through the body to an electrode in a smart watch on the user’s wrist. This ability to identify objects will make smart watches aware of context so that apps can respond differently depending on the situation.
EM-Sense was developed in Pittsburgh by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research. “A smartwatch equipped with EM-Sense would have a much more detailed understanding of what the user is doing than is possible with common mobile sensors, such as accelerometers or pulse monitors,” said researcher Gierad Laput. Since the new technique differentiates between objects based on the ambient electromagnetic noise they emit, objects can be identified without needing to be modified. Anything that is conductive can be identified—even non-electrical items.
The proof-of-concept sensor was built with a small, software-defined radio and additional off-the-shelf components. The researchers have said that a smartwatch would provide the perfect platform for the technology because it would already touch the skin and have a highly capable computer for deciphering signals and running apps.