Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have used a Myo armband, made by Waterloo, Ontario’s Thalmic Labs, to control a prosthetic limb using electric impulses transmitted from an amputee’s mind to his limb.
Until now, we’ve mostly seen the Myo used in applications involving things like playing video games, controlling devices like drones or motorized vehicles, starting and stopping a music player, etc.
The armband works by reading the electromyographical (EMG) impulses triggered by a thought from a person’s brain sending a signal to a limb, which causes a movement.
In this case, medical researchers at the University’s Applied Physics Lab (APL) have attached a pair of Myo armbands to the limb of Johnny Matheny, a man who lost his arm to cancer, just above his prosthetic limb.
The project has been a great stride forward integrating Myo with prosthetics. We’re very, very excited to see what further research and more and more people looking at this area can do with Myo and the open API, especially in the area of prosthetics.
“The Myo, in Johnny’s case, is picking up the EMG signals, or the muscle activation signals, in the upper part of his arm,” said Thalmic Labs co-founder and CEO Stephen Lake. “The project has been a great stride forward integrating Myo with prosthetics. We’re very, very excited to see what further research and more and more people looking at this area can do with Myo and the open API, especially in the area of prosthetics.”
When he thinks about making a gesture, as he would have done with his original limb, the prosthetic makes the same gesture.
“The APL arm is the most unique arm I’ve ever worn,” said Matheny. “It has the ability to do anything that your natural hand, wrist, elbow or shoulder can do.”
Mr. Matheny’s prosthetic is also unique, developed by the Applied Physics Lab to mount directly to his residual limb, or stump, rather than being attached as an accessory.
In Matheny’s case, the prosthetic is implanted into the marrow space of the bone of his residual limb, a procedure called osseointegration.
Thalmic Labs was founded in 2012 by Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey and Aaron Grant, all graduates of the University of Waterloo’s Mechatronics Engineering program.
In February of 2013, Thalmic released MYO, a wearable bit of tech that fits around a user’s forearm for the remote control of Bluetooth 4.0 enabled devices.
A MYO wearer can, to illustrate one 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. In June 2013, Thalmic Labs closed a $14.5 million Series A round of funding, led by Spark Capital and Intel Capital.
Thalmic Labs has doubled the size of its Waterloo office space over the last year and now employs over 50 people.