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.