Myo Gesture Control Armband: Hands free control for your devices

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Thalmic Lab's Myo gesture control armband is a wearable device which reads your muscle movements to control a variety of devices and applications. The $199 armband, compatible with Windows, Mac and mobile devices, touts itself as a way to "wirelessly control technology with gestures and motion."


Pros: Simple setup | Fun to use | Substantial application library | Ease of use

Cons: Unattractive design | Sizing won't fit all | Uncomfortable over long periods of time | Gesture recognition needs improvement

Overall Score: 6/10


What is Myo?

Led by engineers Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey, and Aaron Grant, Canadian firm Thalmic Labs released the Myo armband only last year. The armband, aimed at both the consumer and business market, is now available to the public and the company is pushing hard for developers to take an interest in the wearable tech to improve the product's app ecosystem.

One of the major selling points of the Myo is the novelty factor. You slip the Bluetooth-enabled armband on to your preferred side, sync the wearable to your movements and control anything from your music system to presentations or video streaming, whether you use Windows, Mac, Linux or Android and iOS mobile operating systems.

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Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has called the technology "very impressive," and I happen to agree -- in some respects. It is something new, a product which no doubt will remind some users of Minority Report, filling their heads with the idea of waving their arms to control a vast array of displays and devices.

While Myo doesn't always perform as well as it should, the device does represent how wearable technology is likely to evolve in coming years.

Design

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Myo, the prefix for musculature, should give you a clue about what the device does -- but how does it look?

I've never quite seen anything like the Myo armband. We have sleek wearable buttons that measure our fitness, jackets with power packs installed and the Google Glass visor, but Myo is something quite different. The chunky band, made of black plastic rectangles held together with links which can be clipped to tighten up, protects the metal and sensors which must be placed on your skin without any barrier to read your muscle movements.

In theory, the idea of wearing an armband to control your devices with a flick of the wrist or by making a fist is cool. However, in reality, the armband is uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time, and frankly rather unattractive.

To get the armband to read your muscle movements, you need a snug fit. While there are sizing clips provided to adapt the band to your particular build, unfortunately, women might find the band simply -- doesn't -- fit. Even with enough clips to make my arm feel bloodless, I had to slide the band up my arm more than was comfortable -- and I believe this also led to some gesture-reading issues.

I tested the band out on both female and male friends, and the only real success was my overgrown other half who was able to wear it comfortably without clips or problems.

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Setup

An advantage of Myo is the easy setup. You are given a small Bluetooth adapter which you must slot into a USB port on your machine and then use another USB to temporarily connect the Myo.

Once connected, you may be asked to grant the armband permissions to change aspects of your computer, which can be accepted through either the Windows or Mac control panels -- naturally, if you're looking to use the armband to take over controls, you will need say yes. Through a clean and simple setup display you then name your device, register if you'd like updates on the product and allow Myo to install any firmware required.

Once updated, you disconnect Myo and the system will attempt to find the armband via Bluetooth. If successful -- and in my case, this happened in mere seconds -- the armband's Myo logo will flash blue.

Now it's time to try it on for size. You slide the Myo up your arm to the widest part you can, and you must make sure the band's USB port is facing away from you.

While I was adjusting Myo and adding a few more clips, the band vibrated. It took a moment to realize this was the signal that Myo had detected movement and prompted my Mac to synchronize with the band. It feels a little weird at first but you do get used to it.

Once synced, the band's Myo logo will turn a solid blue.

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The next part of the setup is for the Myo system to read which arm you're using and you must also practice gestures as part of the sync process. You need to wave left, right, spread your fingers and make a fist. If the band doesn't recognize these gestures properly, you need to slide Myo back down your arm and start again.

What can I use Myo for?

Myo not only syncs up to Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile devices, but has an impressive app ecosystem considering how young the technology is. Thalmic Labs has also provided an open software development kit (SDK) for third parties interested in developing their own apps.

The Myo Market is filled with a variety of applications ready for use with Myo, ranging from diagnostic tools to music, mouse and keyboard control or even games such as Fruit Ninja. You can also use the armband to control drones from manufacturer Parrot. Spotify, VLC, iTunes and YouTube are only a handful of the well-known services available.

When testing some of the apps, I found that performance could be spotty -- some apps simply wouldn't work at all and others, such as the Ultimate Mouse Control global connector -- which replaces your traditional PC mouse with Myo -- needs serious work. While it's fun to play with, controlling your mouse through the armband is uncomfortable for long periods and gesture reading is not as seamless as it should be, taking far longer to complete actions than your traditional controller.

However, some apps are perfect, such as the iTunes controller. You flick your hand left or right to change tracks or flip forward, or hold your fist and rotate to change volume levels. With simple, easily recognizable gestures Myo and the app communicated successfully -- and frankly, it was enjoyable to remotely control music this way.

Connectivity, performance

During testing, I found that the gesture recognition technology embedded in the armband did not always meet expectations. The first way to troubleshoot this is to consider setting up custom calibration rather than sticking with the default settings Myo offers. To do this, you click on the Myo logo, choose your armband and then are led through a quick re-sync process in order to create your new profile. This did appear to help as Myo appears to tailor itself more successfully to your natural movements, but it's not perfect.

The worst thing about the gadget is constant -- and I mean constant -- lock ups. Click on, click off without meaning to just by twitching your arm becomes irritating in the extreme. You might want to switch a song on iTunes but realize you have to perform the 'turn on' gesture yet again to restart the system, which adds another gesture into the link before you can control your technology.

While this can prevent you accidentally performing a gesture and completing an action by mistake, I think the option to change this start-stop window would be welcome. After all, if you had to double click a mouse every time you wanted to use it, this would irritate you very quickly. If Myo really wants to replace traditional ways to control tech, then this should be considered for future updates.

Myo comes with a standard micro USB cable for charging and a USB Bluetooth adapter for pairing the device with your computer. I was able to control iTunes from roughly ten feet away, which I think is more than adequate for the armband's intended purposes. Myo is powered by a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery which lasted around a day on one charge.

Could Myo be useful in business?

As shown in the video above, the armband does hold promise when it comes to hands-free control of presentation slides. If your movements are sharp enough, slides can be flicked through rapidly, but unfortunately the gesture detection isn't enough to take the wearable over a standard click-and-point setup.

Should I buy Myo?

If you're an early adopter of new technology, then Myo is worth the investment purely for the novelty factor. The gesture control is not as precise as it should be and the armband is not suitable for everyone in terms of size -- although I believe this will eventually be rectified if the chunk design of the armband can be whittled down -- but frankly, it's fun, it's novel and it's new.

The Myo takes time to control and master, and when it worked, it worked beautifully. However, there are kinks in the gesture recognition setup which need improvement before the Myo can truly be considered a valuable alternative to using a mouse, keyboard or clicker to control technology.

Myo has reams of potential and the technology is impressive at this early stage, although there doesn't really seem to be a clear, defined purpose for the band. Perhaps if the team worked that aspect out, they could focus on making Myo specialize and be very good for one task -- rather than quite poor in many. I don't think it's quite ready for the mass market, but continual updates and hopefully a slimmed-down design will make the band more comfortable to wear and improve performance.

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