I’ve tried tons of gadgets that let you control lights, your computer, and other objects with gestures. They work well for the most part, but more often than not I find myself pointing and waving arbitrarily, which just felt awkward and unnatural.
In most cases, I’d rather just use a mouse to control my laptop, or shut my lights off the way most people do: by getting up and pressing a light switch.
That’s why I was a bit sceptical when I went to check out Thalmic Labs’ Myo armband. The Myo is a gesture-control wristband that you wear on your forearm. It uses electromyography, a technology often used by doctors to record electrical activity from muscles, to measure your movements.
From what I’ve seen, the Myo doesn’t seem like the type of gadget you’d want to wear all the time. It’s large, bulky, and not the most comfortable accessory to wear extensively. When I started my demo, it took forever to calibrate properly.
I thought I was doing something wrong. “It usually works right away,” the Thalmic team assured me as they went through the process of creating a specific profile for my movements.
I was almost ready to write off the Myo as another mediocre gadget that’s more trouble than its worth. But, once the demo got started, I found myself enjoying it much more than I had expected.
There are a few gestures you use to control the Myo: pointing your fingers to the right, pointing them towards you, closing your fist to select an option in a menu, and spreading your fingers. For the most part, these gestures just work.
Since the Myo doesn’t use cameras to capture motion like some other gesture recognition gadgets do, it was much more responsive and sensitive.
What your gestures actually do, however, changes depending on which device you’re using the Myo to control.
If you wanted to lower the volume on your computer, for example, you might make a fist and tilt it from side to side to adjust the volume slider. Pointing your hand to the right might advance you to the next slide in a PowerPoint presentation, but if you’re using Spotify it might take you to the next song in your playlist.
The most impressive Myo demo I tried, though, was the controlling a tiny Sphero robot with the wristband. Although it took some time to set up the Myo, it was extremely responsive and sensitive when I used it to control Sphero’s Ollie robot. As long as the robot was facing me, I could walk in any direction and it would follow me. I didn’t have to wave or make any crazy gestures.
If I wanted to make the robot spin, I could make a fist. As soon as I would stop and simply relax my arm, the robot would relax too. I don’t know how (or if) I would ever use this thing if I bought it, but it sure is cool.
And then there’s the more obvious application for a device like the Myo: gaming. I played a demo in which I had to tilt my arm back and forth to control an aeroplane and avoid crashing. The Myo worked well; the slightest tilt would move the plane exactly where I needed to go.
But, that doesn’t mean the Myo is perfect. It’s a bit uncomfortable to wear, but I’d imagine it’s only meant to be worn for a specific circumstance rather than for extended periods of time (i.e. playing a game, zipping through slides in PowerPoint). And, it looks like it might be an annoyance to wear with long-sleeved shirts. It needs to rest on your skin, so you can’t wear it over clothing.
The biggest setback, though, is its price. The Myo armband costs $US200, which is a lot considering gesture control hasn’t really taken off with mainstream consumers yet. The gadget already works with apps like Netflix and Spotify, and Myo is working with third-party developers to connect it to even more apps.
The technology itself works well and was fun to use, but I’m not sure if I’d be willing to pay $US200 for it as it stands. But it’s still cool to feel like a Jedi.