Computing long ago broke free of the desktop, taking up residence in the constellation of mobile devices that surrounds us: smartphones, tablets, even watches and curiosities like Google Glass. But interacting with ever-smaller devices—whether it’s squinting at a tiny keyboard or shouting commands—can be a pain.
Myo is an arm band developed by Thalmic Labs of Kitchener, Ont. that aims to bring gesture control—think Tom Cruise swiping the air in Minority Report—to your Bluetooth-enabled devices. “The mouse and keyboard still have their place,” says Aaron Grant, one of Thalmic’s three co-founders. “The current state of the art for mobile devices is voice control,” but that is still imprecise, usually requires a data connection and is difficult to use in, say, the library. Instead, Myo measures the electricity given off by your forearm muscles to read hand positions, allowing you to flick through a PowerPoint deck, turn down the lights or pilot a drone with a series of Jedi-esque hand movements.
The Myo arm band includes the same motion sensors as modern smartphones—a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer—to measure precisely how your arm moves through space. What makes it different is electromyography: electrodes that measure the electrical signals from your forearm muscles to tell, for instance, whether you’re making a fist, pointing a finger or giving a thumbs-up.
The arm band communicates with nearby computers or other mobile devices using Bluetooth low energy radio signals.Developers have used it for everything from controlling the volume in iTunes to allowing scrubbed-in surgeons to annotate digital MRI scans without needing to touch unsterile equipment.
Many gesture-control systems are camera-based, relying on power-sucking software to interpret movements (Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect works this way). Myo’s comparatively simple measurements—arm movement, orientation and hand pose—require less power to process, allowing the batteries to last two full days.
Thalmic started shipping 40,000 developer units to early adopters in July; Myo will go on sale to the general public for $149 once its developer period ends in fall.