Waterloo’s Thalmic Labs Inc. has announced the release of MYO, a wearable bit of tech that fits around a user’s forearm for the remote control of Bluetooth 4.0 enabled devices.
The wearer can, for example, raise and lower volume by twisting their hand left or right or pause and start a video with a gesture. A user can sit at a computer and swipe between apps or scroll text on both Windows and Mac platforms, with simple hand movements. The product is named for the myolectric impulse, the miniscule pulse of electricity that produces movement in muscles fibres. The device is also compatible with iOS and Android mobile platforms.
Currently in the middle of a three-month residency at Y-Combinator in Silicon Valley with 46 other start-ups for the 2013 winter cohort, the company has raised $1.1 million in seed money from ATI Technologies founder Lee Lau, HP Canada CEO Paul Tsaparis, Rypple co-founder Daniel Debow and Dayforce CEO David Ossip.
Unlike other motion control devices, the MYO doesn’t require a camera but gathers information from a combination of gyroscopes, accelerometers, and sensors. It obviously has applications well beyond computer use: gaming, robotics, presentations, etc.
“We actually use the actuations of all the muscles in your forearm,” said CEO Stephen Lake. “These sensors are highly sensitive to electrical activity from muscles.” As subtle as the technology sounds, the first release of this device will be limited to a range of approximately 20 preset gestures, leaving open the possibility for user customization in future releases. “So far we’re not announcing customized gestures for technical reasons,” Mr. Lake said.
Lake co-founded the company in 2012 with Aaron Grant and Matthew Bailey, fellow graduates of the University of Waterloo’s Mechatronics Engineering Program. Thalmic Labs now has 11 employees, and plans to expand to 15 this year.
Aside from just the device, Thalmic Labs is also releasing the MYO API, allowing developers to put the technology through its paces and generate experimental new applications. “We’re really interested in what third-party developers can do. Everyone we’ve talked to has a different idea for it,” stated Lake. The attitude that outside developers can innovate applications that the company’s founders might not have imagined is refreshing. “I think so far we’ve only thought of around 1 per cent of its potential applications,” says Tim Blackwell, founder of Umbrella Robotics and a partner in Y-Combinator.
The mind reels thinking about combining this technology with smart eyeglasses, and perhaps expanding the wearable tech aspect to more than a forearm.
“As a company, we’re interested in how we can use technology to enhance our abilities as humans – in short, giving us superpowers,” Stephen Lake, co-founder and CEO of Thalmic Labs said. “We’re excited to see how the MYO blurs the lines between us and digital technology.”
Pre-ordering for the first 25,000 of these $149 devices is now open, for shipping late in 2013.