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Hands on with Thalmic Labs' Myo gesture control armband

Al Sacco | June 16, 2015
Today's world of wearable technology is packed with gimmicky gizmos designed to grab eyeballs and then quietly fade into cyberspace. Companies such as Thalmic Labs are working to cut through the noise and develop useful, innovative gadgets that demonstrate the promise of wearables to consumers and enterprises.

Today's world of wearable technology is packed with gimmicky gizmos designed to grab eyeballs and then quietly fade into cyberspace. Companies such as Thalmic Labs are working to cut through the noise and develop useful, innovative gadgets that demonstrate the promise of wearables to consumers and enterprises.

Thalmic's unique new Myo "gesture control armband," is exactly what it sounds like: a band you wear around your forearm that lets you control various applications with a half dozen basic arm and hand gestures. It uses electromyography (EMG) to measure the electricity that runs through your muscles as they shift and contract as well as your movement. It then translates the gestures into commands.

Today, the company offers a basic application, called Myo for Presentations, which lets you use gestures to control Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote slide shows, as well as a few Connectors designed to give you gesture control over iTunes, Spotify and a PC game called "Race the Sun." The Myo Market also contains Connectors from third-party developers.

I've had Myo for a few weeks now, and though I've primarily used it along with PowerPoint and Keynote to navigate through slide shows, I also tested it with iTunes on my Mac, the music app on my iPhone, and a totally useless-yet-admittedly amusing, third-party whip simulation game on my Samsung GS6 edge Android phone.

It took me a while to get the hang of Myo, and I've had some bad luck with its third-party Connectors. The company also has some significant challenges to overcome, but Thalmic is onto something with the concept of Myo and the device shows genuine potential. Here's a quick breakdown of what currently works with Myo, what needs more work and a quick conclusion. (Hit that conclusion link if you want to skip my longwinded elucidation on everything Myo.)

Thalmic Myo review: What works

The Myo armband is composed of eight small plastic rectangles, with metal sensors on their undersides that are connected with a durable plastic band. The one-size-fits-all band slides over your wrist and onto the thickest part of your forearm, so those sensors sit firmly against your skin when in use. It's futuristic and funky-looking, and it will likely draw attention if you wear it exposed, but it also works beneath a loose fitting shirt or jacket, according to Thalmic.

Myo is available in both black and white color options. Overall, the hardware is sleek, light and functional, though the rectangles are a bit clunky and could be slightly thinner. 

The initial setup process is fairly simple, and it consists of a basic sync gesture that helps calibrate the band. Thalmic needs to warm up before it can collect accurate readings, so you need to wear the band for a few minutes prior to using it. When it's ready, you flex your wrist outward and then continue moving your arm in a similar arc to complete the sync gesture. Then you calibrate five basic movements: a double-tap of the thumb and middle finger; an inward wave of your hand; outward hand wave; a firmly closed fist; and a wide open palm. You can also rotate your closed fist clockwise and counter clockwise to trigger certain actions. And Myo vibrates when it detects a gesture command.

 

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