Google beware: Wearable technology is more than just seeing and speaking

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on May 1, 2013

From The News Desk

Innovations with human-computer interaction technology keep making leaps and bounds. It seems like eons ago when Kinect created a game console that used the human body as a controller; Apple’s Siri made dictating and talking to your phone that much easier (although, definitely not perfect!). Google Glass is bringing the world of Google to a small projected plane of view above your eye. And now there are even competitors for Google Glass even before the product’s release. The Ontario-Based Thalmic Labs is working on the MYO armband, hoping to bring this technology to a new level. If the product lives up to its hype, then not only is wearable technology the wave of the future, but MYO could become a competing technology to Google’s current wearable tech.

Thalmic Labs, which was started by three University of Waterloo mechatronics graduates, was founded in 2012. According to co-founder Stephen Lake, the company launched literally days after they graduated. “We had worked on some related technologies while we were studying,” he explained. One past academic project was a wearable technology device to help the blind navigate.

Last week it released a video giving viewers a sneak peek at what the MYO armband. The MYO is a one-size-fits-all armband that tracks the motion of your hand and sends and processes that information. The product tracks muscle movements in your forearm and is able to discern arm, hand, and finger movements and poses. The idea guiding MYO specifically is that technology is moving beyond the smartphone into more complete wearable computing systems. In the video a ball is controlled simply by the motions of an outstretched hand nowhere near the ball. Other scenarios include answering a call with the flip of a wrist and giving a presentation without the use of a computer mouse.

"Wearable technology" seems to be all the rage these days, and products like the MYO is adding some credence to this. The product has yet to be released with no prototype being tested beyond the walls of the lab, but this video has garnered some real buzz for the product.

While the most obvious use cases have it as an input device to control other devices, like scrolling on a smartphone, grabbing a file, and just more easily interacting with technology rather than pressing keys on an old phone or mouse, the armband is exciting because of has the potential to go beyond these.

Thalmic’s initial thesis question behind the device is: How do we interface the real and the digital world. Lake believes this inquiry is along the same lines of Google Glass. However, he believes that in the future, “people aren’t going to walk around just talking to themselves.” The MYO is attempting to do what Google Glass is doing, but make the interfacing between device and person more seamless using different sensory technologies. The company focuses just on the technology and not the marketing, however, you can get a sense that they have big plans for the product.

These days Google Glass is the standard to which all new technologies must compare themselves. If Lake’s words ring true, then MYO could either become a rival to Google’s product, or perhaps even incorporated into another version down the line.

The MYO is getting the attention of hundreds of developers. Some are interested “in the entertainment and gaming side,” Lake told me. “And then there are people interested in business applications; things like presentations, new forms of a powerpoint presentation.”

In the video you see someone playing Tetris and moving the blocks with their hands. While the clip was released just to garner buzz (which it obviously is), we can only imagine what developers can do with it once they get their hands on it.

The developer program will be the real litmus test for how this product will take off. Lake tells me that Thalmic plans launching the MYO developer subset sometime this summer, as well as giving developers early access to the MYO before its available to the public. Then we’ll get a real taste for the future of wearable tech, and what Google may have in store for it.

Whatever the market outcome, Lake sees Thalmic -- as well as all burgeoning wearable technologies -- as a force to be reckoned with while the world “moves away from this paradigm of sitting in front of your computer.”

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