Just when we thought smartwatches couldn’t get any smarter, a prototype is breaking new ground with the uncanny ability to recognize what its wearer is touching.

By exploiting the body’s natural electrical conductivity, the watch is able to distinguish objects like an electric toothbrush, a kitchen stove, a doorknob or a motorcycle handlebar.

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The new technology called EM-Sense was developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research. Researchers think that because the watch is able to recognize objects by using the distinctive electromagnetic noise emitted by each device, it reduces or even eliminates the need for sensors such as RFID tags inside devices. 

Objects won't have to be modified to announce what they are to nearby computer devices, like a smartwatch. EM-Sense could also open the door to many context-aware apps.

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Essentially, the technology extends the capability of the Internet to physical objects — a concept known as the Internet of Things — and opens up new ways for people to interact with objects.

“EM-Sense can make the Internet of Things experience even richer by enabling people to get information or additional functionality simply by touching everyday objects,” said Jessica Hodgins, vice president of Disney Research, in an article published by Carnegie Mellon University.

With this groundbreaking technology, functions can range from setting a timer to know how much time an individual spends on certain activities, like brushing her teeth, to being able to unlock a computer without a password but simply by touching the keyboard.

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Many other scenarios could also play out. For example, a user can step on a scale and have his weight displayed on his watch, touch his steering wheel and have the news play from his watch and then latch onto his office door and have calendar reminders sound off to alert him of his first morning meeting. If he needs help during a DIY home project, the user can reach for a drill and have an instructional diagram and tutorial presented on his watch.

The technology was unveiled at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology this month in Charlotte, N.C.

You can see the technology unfold here.