I’m always on the lookout for new innovative ways to control my computers, phones and house. I remember seeing the Tom Cruise film Minority Report and getting stuck on one particular scene where Cruise’s character stood in front of a huge screen and used a pair of gloves to reach up and make gestures and tweaks on the information in front of him. This sort of tech has been tried a number of times since with the notable examples being Microsoft’s Kinect and the Leap Motion but they’ve all had one thing in common – using cameras to watch you move.
The Myo from Thalmic labs takes a different direction towards the same gesture control end. Instead of a number of cameras to calculate your position in space it uses sensors pressed against your skin to read your muscle moments and translates these into commands. These sensors and the batteries to power them are placed in a stretchy armband that sits tightly on the widest part of your forearm and connect using Bluetooth to your PC. Load up the software and a number of hand gestures and arm movements can control individual programs. Thalmic has two approaches to this – generalised and specific. The specific programs are called connectors and let you directly map movements to individual controls. These connectors act on the window that has focus at a specific time so if you’ve connectors for Spotify and Fruit Ninja installed your attempt to slice that melon won’t skip to the next song. There needs to be a connector written for the program or site you want to work with and Thalmic has encouraged a reasonable number with media, browsers, productivity and some games topping the list. The general approach is to give you mouse control depending on how you move your arm and gestures for clicking or scrolling.
From the first time I got the Myo on my arm and learnt the basic gestures, I was amazed at how well it worked. The more I think about it I realise that it’s not shocking but the ability to read my movements was very convincing and worked as I intended the vast majority of the time.
That does lead me to the Myo’s main problem. It’s designed to be worn on the arm all day, while you’re out and about or under your clothes in the house. The problem is getting it to interpret when you are making a gesture to control your music or when you’re picking up an apple. Thalmic has built a lock system into the Myo that stops or starts it paying attention to you when you flex your hand outwards. Unfortunately, this seems to be more common a gesture than you’d think. I do it typing, I do it washing up, I do it subconsciously when stretching. Every time you do the gesture you turn the Myo on or off. I tried typing this last paragraph wearing the Myo and it ended up locking and unlocking twice before I got to the end of the paragraph.
The upshot is that unless you think about it all the time you’re wearing it you’re bound to send some unexpected and spurious commands and this means it can’t be worn the whole time.
So what about wearing it in certain circumstances? This much narrower use case lets the Myo shine. Their promotional videos show it being used to control Powerpoint on projectors, skip and alter music and play games and I’ve tried all three with good success after getting used to the alternative controls.
So far I’ve talked about the PC and the Myo but what about other setups? The Myo is surprisingly cross-platform supporting OSX, iOS, Android and Linux.
OSX seems very similar to Windows but there are significantly fewer connectors available. iOS and Android work by letting apps connect directly to the Myo and then letting the app interpret to the rest of the OS. This means that the apps there are somewhat limited both in number and in utility – you can control some media, play air guitar or use the phone as an interface to control some drones but there is little to hold long-term interest for most users.
Price: ± $200 with regular discounts or £169
Paid extras: Extra sizing clips are available for $10 if you have a very large forearm
Delivery costs: Free Delivery Amazon,
Ships to: U.K., Europe. U.S., Canada
About Thalmic Labs
Thalmic Labs was founded in early 2012 to specialise in hardware solutions to Human/Computer interactions and the Myo is their first consumer product. They are based in Ontario, Canada and have around 70 employees.
The Myo is a number of plastic box components containing its batteries, sensors and CPU held in a springy arm bracelet. You wear it around the largest part of your forearm and it needs to be tight to get good data. This tightness and the fact it’s not breathable does mean that it starts imprinting and itching fairly quickly and the most I was about to wear it (switched off) was about 4 hours.
- Target audience: Tech and gadget enthusiasts wanting to try something new
- Target age range: Teens, Adults, Older adults
- Target gender: Unisex/gender neutral, with white and black versions
- Optimized for left or right-handed use
- Indoor and outdoor use. Not waterproof but it has a rubber cover and will probably withstand rain.
At around £170 the Myo isn’t cheap and is more expensive than most input methods for your PC. Compared to a well-specced PC or upper-end smartphone it is however only a small fraction of the total price tag you’d pay. It’s well built and durable and I’d expect it to last for a good amount of time although the elastic connectors might need changing at some point if worn very regularly.
Size: Between 19 and 34cm depending on clips
Item Weight: 93 grams
Colour: Black or white
Sensors: EMG muscles sensors, nine-axis IMU with three-axis gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer
Processor: ARM Cortex M4
Feedback: Haptic of varying length
Battery: Built-in non-removable lithium-ion
Warranty: 30 day return policy with a one year from delivery date warranty.
The Myo needs you to have reasonable control of your forearm muscles and a forearm between 19 and 34cm circumference at its widest point. The band uses Bluetooth LE which has a reliable range of a room but will work at much longer distances occasionally.
The Myo works with most systems but not quite everything. It is compatible with Windows 7, 8 and 10, Mac OSX 10.8 and later, iOS 7.0 and later and Android 4.3 and later as long as the device has Bluetooth 4.0 LE support.
The Myo is a very appealing product for two sets of people. Those who want the latest and greatest and want to experiment with a new way of controlling their systems and generally hack with it or those who have a specific use case in mind when they buy it. For myself its an interesting idea that doesn’t quite measure up. I’ll be interested to see if Thalamic manage to get it working with VR in any way and what they do for gen 2. Recommended for developers and enthusiasts.
The review is based on the Black Myo kindly provided by Thalmic Labs. Read more about Ergohacks’ eco, access and feature icons used in reviews. This article was first published on 22nd June 2016.