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Endless Possibilities in User Interfacing with Myo

As an engineer, you often find solutions to problems, not the other way around. However, once in a blue moon, a solution comes along that appears so interesting and full of potential that you feel compelled to dream up applications for it. Such is the case with Thalmic Lab's Myo armband. The inventors describe Myo as a "gesture control armband". It is an elastic armband that recognizes the user's finger movements and hand rotations by sensing electrical activity in the forearm muscles, then reports them over Bluetooth to receiving devices. This presents a whole new channel for user interface (UI) design and human computer interaction (HCI). Thalmic Lab put out a video last year illustrating just some of the many possible applications. TLDW:

  • Gesture-based control of iTunes - To adjust music volume, twist an imaginary knob in thin air, or flick your hand to the right to skip the current track.
  • Console game interface - Pull an imaginary trigger while holding an imaginary gun to fire your weapon. Reach over your shoulder and arm your character with a long rifle.
  • RC quad-copter - Fly a quad-copter by pretending your hand is the vehicle and tilt and rotate your hand.
  • Gesture-based slide control - Navigate your slide deck and zoom in and out without a hand-held device or clicking a key or mouse.
  • Touch-free videos - Imagine following a cooking video while having your hands occupied at the cutting board. Make hand gestures to pause, rewind and advance the tutorial without getting chicken grease all over your keyboard.
  • Gesture-based music and social media control during sports - Control your music while you're skiing, or take 1st-person video to share to Facebook without pulling out your smartphone.

Seeing this video, I began to think of other possible apps. EDIT: Bear in mind the Myo has no feedback in itself except for haptic and Bluetooth signals.

  • Card counting - I couldn't help it! The first thought was mildly nefarious. Subtle gestures can increment tallies during Blackjack. Combined with Google Glass for example, you can soon tip the odds in your favor. I leave it up to you to imagine all the ways you can trick your friends at the tables.
  • Driving controls - Even though the modern steering wheel has a lot of buttons to control parts of your car, you still need to take your eyes off the road to find and identify the button before pressing it. It'll be nice to change the channel or put an incoming call on the speakers with some simple gestures, never looking away from the road. With two hands occupied, this seems especially relevant while riding a scooter or motorcycle.
  • Smart home - With the dawn of smart home devices, what if control of them converged to a Myo? Dim the lights, draw the curtains, toggle your TV, mute the speakers, lock the doors, adjust the thermostat, set the alarm all with hand gestures from your arm chair. I will venture forth that learning some intuitive hand gestures is easier than picking up a super duper universal remote and sorting through all the buttons.
  • Fake calls - Ever need an excuse to get out of a boooooooring conversation? Imagine a smartphone app bound to your Myo, whereby a slight, hidden gesture places an incoming call to your phone giving you a much needed break.
  • Photo trigger - Timers are nice, but sometimes you just need a "hands-free" trigger. "Shaka", "peace", "live long and prosper" can trigger your camera to take the group selfie. The camera doesn't have to be pointed at you either. Rock-climbing, pointing a hunting rifle, reeling in a fish, racing on the track or otherwise just can't push your GoPro button? Make the magic forearm movements to take the crazy shot.
  • Sports training - If you're a golfer, a Myo can be a part of system that senses your stroke and gives you valuable feedback on your grip strength, your wrist rotation timing, your positioning of thumb, etc. during practice. The same is true for other sports, like tennis, racquetball or even football if you're looking for that perfect spiral.
  • Musician's assistant - Having your music sheet turned on your tablet while your hands are busy playing can be convenient, not to mention changing a background beat or triggering queued up effects while you strum.
  • Virtual keyboard - I believe with two Myos, you can get pretty close to typing on a keyboard without actually having a keyboard. I'm not sure if I prefer this over other mobile keyboards like roll-ups or laser-based ones though. With dual Myos though, it will be interesting to type without requiring your hands be next to each other on a table which can easily lead to repetitive strain injury. Theoretically, you can make the same typing finger movements with my arms resting at my side or behind my head.

The Myo seems perfect for disabilities applications too:

  • Sign language - A sign language to voice interpreter seems valuable, assuming the Myo is up to the task of recognizing the finer grained movements and gestures.
  • Prosthetic control - What if you had no hands or couldn't use them anymore, but can still send the signals through your forearms. The signals might be similar enough for a prosthetic hand to recognize and replicate intended hand motions with fidelity.
  • Other device control - The forearm signals need not be limited to prosthetics. Controlling a wheel chair or communications with caretakers might also be easier with hand gestures depending on the case.

These are ideas thought of "in reverse" so to speak starting with the solution; who knows what developers will come up with when faced first with a problem and then realizing something like the Myo exists off-the-shelf for $149. It's been over a year since I placed a Myo pre-order, and the final polished product is nearing release. I can't wait for the shipment to come in and see if it's time we take human computer interaction to the next level.

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Comment by Joseph Lui on June 21, 2014 at 12:58pm

Glad I could direct your attention to something you find neat, Brian.

Sure a demo or at least a video is in order once the shipment comes in and then after something cool is built with it.One-to-one use cases with a human and a computer can be neat, though lately I've been thinking if there is an interesting application if multitudes of users were wearing a Myo connected through their smartphone connected to each other.

Comment by Brian on June 20, 2014 at 7:51pm

Agree on the one-click shopping.. don't want to derail your thread into a discussion on Amazon's data collection efforts.. suffice to say I use their products and generally like them but have misgivings nonetheless..

Yes if there ever is a truly decent MMI that will just let ideas appear that would be awesome... I just think it's interesting whenever a new tech comes out and everything else is declared dead. Not to imply you were doing that.. just seems like lately with oculus, amazon phone, kinect, glass, etc.. there has been a lot of this star trek tech hitting the consumer grade..  cool nonetheless!

Myo is actually one of the neater ones I've seen so thanks for writing about it. I think what's really cool is when these sensors can be used to augment activities we already do. So for example imagine giving a myo to a musician or a conductor... or a dancer and letting them control music.. or lighting  etc.. 

Maybe when you eventually get yours do a live presentation? 

Comment by Joseph Lui on June 20, 2014 at 4:46pm

@brian Can't speak much to the Fire Phone without having used one irl. I must say the built-in hardware manifestation of One-click Shopping for anything you can point your phone at is a bit too off-putting for me to consider getting one. The Kinect has been very well-received by the market. That reaffirms we will see different human computer interfaces proliferate for us to interact with what marketers call "The Internet of Everything".

Agree we won't see keyboard/mouse supplanted soon for doing work. I still wouldn't mind typing with my hands behind my head though. :)

Comment by Brian on June 20, 2014 at 2:46pm

What are your thoughts on the 'hand jerk' controls for the new Amazon phone and/or how Kinect has been received?

Definitely see how non-button interfaces have great niche applications but it's hard to unseat the simplicity of pushing something. I think it's good to experiment with, but ultimately pretty much everyone uses a keyboard and/or pointer to do substantial work - vice arm-waving or voice control.


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