Smartwatches come in all different shapes, sizes and price ranges yet they all suffer from an inherent flaw: they don’t solve a problem or fill a need. A group of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University may have come up with a practical application that’d make the common smartwatch truly useful.

As the researchers explain, most everyday electrical and electromechanical objects emit small amounts of electromagnetic (EM) noise during operation. When a person touches such an object like a laptop, a motorcycle, a ladder or an electric toothbrush, the EM signals pass through the user’s body. The signals aren’t strong enough for humans to detect but can easily be picked up by special a small, low-cost software radio.

The team embedded their sensor inside a traditional smartwatch as a proof-of-concept called EM-Sense. As such, the watch is able to determine what you are touching or holding and can even trigger specific tasks or duties.

Grabbing a toothbrush, for example, can launch a timer to make sure you brush adequately. Touching the door handle of your office at work, meanwhile, could prompt the watch to check your e-mail and text messages. The watch could also be used to unlock your laptop, provide traffic updates when you get in your car and more.

The possibilities here are truly endless and could finally give millions a reason to purchase a smartwatch.

All media courtesy Gierad Laput