Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Future Interfaces Group have hacked an LG G Watch so that the smartwatch can recognise what you're touching.
The ViBand proof of concept uses an accelerometer that is repurposed to run at 4,000 Hz versus the 100 Hz you might expect on a regular smartwatch. That means that if an object vibrates - a power screwdriver, say, a hand blender, coffee grinder, car or a guitar - then the ViBand can recognise the input and identify what you're doing in the real world.
It doesn't need to be electronic necessarily but it won't work with any object. But the ViBand is smart enough to know you're holding something based on micro-vibrations in your arm and the tech can even pick up if you're rubbing two fingers together, tapping on your palm or the back of your hand. In the guitar example, a guitar practice app could get data on whether a note is flat or sharp.
The technology is referred to as bio-acoustic sensing and the team behind it, Gierad Laput, Robert Xiao and assistant professor of human-computer interaction Chris Harrison, believe this could replace RFID and QR codes for detecting real objects. 'Vibro-tags' could be placed on doors, for example, and emit inaudible vibrations to act as an alternative to iBeacons.
Harrison gave TechCrunch some more detail on the sensor's potential: "[What's] interesting is being able to use the arm as an extension of this sensor. We can actually detect what object you're grasping as soon as you grasp, and we can detect whether you're in the car, in the kitchenâŚ"
Not only that but the custom kernel that makes it possible could be deployed as a firmware update to Android Wear smartwatches and Tizen watches like the Samsung Gear S3, the Apple Watch may be a trickier get.
"Various people in the industry have reached out to us, like 'huh, we didn't know we could do this.' We're in talks with people right now," he said.
The PhD students recently won an award at the User Interface Software and Technology Symposium in Tokyo. And it's not actually the first time we've seen a prototype wearable that can detect what objects you're touching or holding.
Last November, we covered Disney's research into using electromagnetic signals. Its smartwatch uses hyper sensitive antenna to search for low frequencies emitted by objects - such as doorknobs, phones, light switches - through our bodies.
Source: FastCo Design