Look, no hands! Will Canada's Myo armband replace the mouse?

Stephen Lake, CEO and Co-founder of Thalmic Labs, on the Myo armband that controls applications with hand gestures.

[image_library_tag 406932a0-10c0-43e8-9f6c-a83d0880ce2d 66x87 alt="stephen" title="stephen" width="66" height="87"class="left "]A while ago we wrote about how ‘touch-free’ tech is being used in hospitals and TedCas in Spain using Myo’s gesture control armband to navigate slides in surgeries. But the Myo armband can also be used in presentations as well as to control computer games from a distance. We caught up with Stephen Lake, CEO and Co-founder of Canada’s Thalmic Labs, over email to find out more.

How does the technology in the Myo armband work?

The Myo armband measures electrical activity in your muscles, as well as the motion of your forearm, to wirelessly control computers, phones, and other digital technologies touch-free with hand gestures.

What sorts of gestures can you make with it?

We have five static hand gestures, which can be combined with motion to create an infinite number of gestures. The static hand gestures are Double-Tap, Wave Right, Wave Left, Fist, and Finger Spread.

What makes this technology different from other gesture technologies?

Unlike other gesture control or motion control devices, Myo doesn’t require a motion-sensing camera like Microsoft Kinect or Leap Motion, which means that the user can maintain control when on the go. The device connects wirelessly over a Bluetooth Low Energy connection and can essentially connect to any Bluetooth-ready device for which applications are built.

Can it be used for presentations in work meetings?

Yes, our latest Thalmic-built application is Myo for Presentations. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the Myo as a wearable presentations remote that allows users to flip through presentations with intuitive, hands-free control. In addition to navigating through presentations with hand gestures, users can take advantage of advanced features including a digital pointer and zoom to interact with content in real-time. The application works with PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, Google Slides, and Adobe Reader.

What else can it be used for?

In addition to Myo for Presentations, the device can be used to change songs or adjust volume on your music player including iTunes or Spotify, control video playback in Netflix, or even control RC devices including Sphero and Parrot. We have over 100 applications and connectors available for download in Myo Market. Beyond what's already there, users can use a Keyboard Mapper to map keys to gestures, customising their experience for things like their favourite PC games.

On average, how long does it take for a user to learn the hand gestures?

Going through the Getting Started Guide takes about five minutes or less.

It can also be used in healthcare, for instance in surgeries?

Yes. There are currently surgeons in Spain who are using Myo to navigate slides while scrubbed-in during surgery.

Do you have examples of patients using it too?

Nothing of note at the moment, though there are many researchers who are interested in finding uses for Myo for patients. One very touching story can be found here.

How important was the design concept behind the product?

There are so many elements of design for the Myo. From designing the EMG sensors to figuring out LED states to coming up with the actual aesthetic of the device, there were many design decisions that had to be made along the way. It was important to us to create a one-size-fits-all device, which was a challenge since Myo needs to maintain direct contact with the skin for a wide variety of arm sizes. The rubber flex which runs along the top and bottom of the band has actual electronics running through it, which was such a revolutionary design that it had many manufacturers shying away from bringing it to life with us. The product went through many iterations before we landed on the design that we're proud to be shipping today.

[image_library_tag 8dd2663e-1e38-4fd0-81c8-e15f1b4d1d09 640x384 alt="myo" title="myo" width="640" height="384"class="center "]

Does the armband have the potential to replace the mouse?

There are certain cases in which Myo could replace the mouse, but Myo is trying to solve the problem of interacting with technology from a distance when you step away from the mouse and keyboard or when your hands are occupied. Great examples include controlling a video while cooking, turning up the volume to your favourite songs while hosting a party, or playing a computer game from a distance for a more immersive experience.

Minority Report’s Oblong Industries believe the world is not ready for hand gestures yet. Your thoughts?

We often get asked if Myo is before its time, but we see this as a great input for a future output that may not even exist yet. At Thalmic, we're excited about the future of technology. Specifically, the idea of closely coupling us as humans with digital technology in ways that improve or enhance our lives and/or abilities. For us, Myo is a first step down a long path in this direction.

What is coming up next for the armband?

We're continuing to build the developer community, the applications available, and improve the core technology for our users to have a better experience with their Myo armbands.