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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.

Myo connects to your computer using Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), and it needs a special USB dongle. A few times Myo lost its connection when I walked around my office and something came between me and the connected USB dongle. This could be an issue for people who move around a lot during presentations. 

I also had trouble starting Myo. Sometimes it just wouldn't work even though the Myo Connect app told me it was connected and the armband status indicator glowed solid blue, which means it's connected.

Myo works along with a desktop app called Myo Connect, which includes a number of options, including an Armband manager that lets you calibrate and modify gesture settings and an Application Manager that is designed to activate and disable individual apps and Connectors. Myo works only within the active window on your computer, and you cannot switch between windows or apps remotely, so you can use only Myo app or Connector at a time.

I mostly focused on Myo for Presentations, but I also experimented with other Connectors that let you control popular applications using Myo gestures. For example, I downloaded a Connector from the Myo Market, or Myo app store, called Handy Browser, which lets you perform basic browser functions in Chrome and Firefox. And I tested the Myo iTunes Connector that controls basic media player functions from afar. In both cases, I had to frequently repeat gestures for them to work, and though Connectors are interesting at first, they're mostly a novelty for me.

You also have to disconnect the Myo USB dongle if you want to use the armband with another device, such as a phone or tablet, when you're close to your computer and then you need to manually disconnect your Bluetooth connection to those mobile devices if you want to connect to the USB dongle again. In other words, Myo makes you jump through a number of hurdles to get it to work.

You can also use Myo's Keyboard Mapper function to create custom Connectors that trigger certain keyboard commands on your computer. I created a Connector for Microsoft Word that was supposed to let me save documents and open new ones using gestures, but I couldn't get it to work.

My forearms are on the large side, and I found Myo to be somewhat uncomfortable after wearing it for a while. Myo has to fit snuggly to function, but it left angry red marks on my arm after 30 minutes of use. The company provides small pins that you can use to tighten the band if you have smaller forearms, but I obviously wasn't able to test them. The one-size-fits-all approach isn't ideal for Myo in its current incantation.


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