Thalmic Labs’ Myo Armband – Lazy Man’s Remote
Over the years, science has provided us with several types of input devices: the keyboards, mouses and more recently the touch screens.
Today, there are many new methods of controlling our devices, their functions and the apps without the use of any external sensors. One is called the Myo Armband – it reads and translates the gestures of the arm to which it’s attached to wirelessly control other devices such as computers and smartphones.
Additional Reading: Flow Wireless Controller
Thalmic Labs – Buzz for Myo
About two years ago, an unknown Canadian startup called Thalmic Labs posted a teaser for Myo on the web, which made rounds in a matter of days, but nobody really thought the gesture-sensing peripheral would come to live up to the hype.
The little Myo Armband uses a technique called electromyography (EMG) to read electric impulses sent to your forearm muscles, and then translates the gestures you make with the arm, hand, or finger into commands to a computer. This has proven to be a radical departure from the traditional way of registering gesture commands.
If you look at how most other gesture controlled systems such as Kinect work, you would detect a whole ton of differences on efficiency, ease of use and a lot other aspects. Devices with the old technology still use cameras to detect movements, which can be affected by simple obstructions such as poor lighting and distance. By drawing information directly from your arm instead of using a camera, Myo solves all these snags – and also enables one to work with devices that are not equipped with cameras in the first place.
The Myo Armband – How it works
After reading an impulse on your forearm muscle, the device passes it through eight blocks, each containing an EMG sensor, and held in position by an expandable band, for interpretation.
The Myo Armband also utilises a 3-axis magnetometer, 3-axis accelerator, and 3-axis gyroscope to detect arm motion in any direction. The muscle motion is handled by an inbuilt ARM Cortex M4 Processor, which uses Bluetooth to connect with the receiver device from up to 30 metres away.
In case your device doesn’t have built in Bluetooth functionality, the Myo Armband comes with a Bluetooth dongle that is compatible with just about any USB port.
What it Looks Like
Since it was first conceived, some time back in 2013, Myo has undergone quite a number of changes such that the current look is a whole lot different from the initial design. It’s fairly slim, keeping in mind the number of sensors stuffed in it, and besides the geeky nature typical of this kind of devices, there is an undeniable badass look to the Myo. What I’m suggesting is, this isn’t anything like Google Glass.
The device is also designed to fit every forearm, regardless of size and texture. (Just concerned about my super-hairy bros out there.) Technically, the band can stretch to fit a 13-inch-circumference arm. Translation: your arm will fit in comfortably.
Myo – Setup and Calibration
This is a product of a kind we’ve never experienced before (save for the Titanium Falcon’s Talon), so setting it up is a little strange and unfamiliar. The two thing you can possibly do without the user manual is slipping the band onto your arm and establishing a Bluetooth connection. The rest can be found on Thalmic’s website, where they have posted a few short videos to assist you with the setup and calibration process.
Once you fit the band on to the thickest part of your forearm (usually the part right next to the elbow), it takes a few seconds for the sensors to warm up. According to the setup video, Myo uses this period to form an electrical connection with the forearm muscles. Once the bond is established, you will feel a slight vibration; a signal that the device is ready for sync. You can then perform the sync gesture’, as demonstrated in the video, and you’re ready to go!
Performance in Field
Once you’re done with the setup process and proper calibration of the sensors, Myo works exactly like it’s been chalked to be! I’ve tried it with a couple of apps and the device is totally responsive as long as you’re within Bluetooth range.
First I tried it out with iTunes and believe me, it worked like magic the very first time: you play and pause by spreading your fingers, roll your wrist to adjust the volume, wave right and left to skip tracks etc. Iron Man, anyone?! There are many other Myo enabled apps available on the Myo marketplace.
The only downside about this device is that, currently, it’s not as dynamic as I had initially thought. It can recognise only two types of motions and five gestures: right and left waves, finger taps, opening the wrist, and any up, down, right, left, and roll movements.
The sensors are possibly capable of more, but that does not mean Myo is in any way incomplete. You can still do a lot with the available commands.
Myo Compatibility with Other Devices
Developers got their hands on Myo long before it was released, so the device already has a good number of plugins and apps to offer. You will find downloadable integrations for all kinds of utilities, games and apps: Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, Space Program etc. There is even an app that allows you to control a drone like demonstrated in the pitch video on their website two years ago.
The fact that Thalmic has no limit on how this device can be used has basically made developers to run wild with it – which is to the user’s benefit.
Sadly, there are no integrations for PlayStation or Xbox in the marketplace as of now, but more apps are being introduced with each passing day, so if you obtained this device for gaming purposes, it might come in handy soon.
We’ve been waiting for this wearable for nearly two years now, and even after all that anticipation and buildup, it still managed to keep up with our expectations. This thing is freaking cool, comfortable to put on, efficient, and you can use it with devices ranging from TVs, Smartphones and computers straight out of the box.
Of course it’s sad that we can’t play our favourite games on Xbox with Myo yet, but thanks to the open API of the device, we can hope that developers notice the demand and make it happen ASAP. It’s simply one of those few devices that get more useful with age.