Author(s): George Jijiashvili
Over the past few years, some start-up companies have attempted to use wearable devices to interact with smartphones, tablets and PCs using what they claim to be the most natural, intuitive and efficient way: hand gestures.
This idea captured the imagination of many early technology adopters, and a few companies ran successful crowd-funding campaigns, each raising a substantial amount of money. Such campaigns include Deus Ex Aria ($160,000), Gest ($200,000), Logbar Ring ($880,000) and Neyya Fin ($200,000). However, all of these projects have so far been unable to meet backers' expectations, encountering delays and cancellations or delivering a sub-par product.
One product I've been using is the Myo gesture armband from Canadian start-up Thalmic Labs. The band reads the electrical activity of arm muscles to determine the gestures made with your hand. When the first concepts for Myo were released in 2013, just like other gesture devices it aimed to become an everyday wearable for general consumer uses, like interacting with PCs and controlling music playback and video games.
However, in practice the Myo is not as life-changing as it may appear from its promotional material. All of Myo's functions, such as the mouse, keyboard, music and presentation controls, work (more or less), but controlling them the old-fashioned way proved to be quicker, more reliable and, more importantly, less frustrating.
Over the past few years I've noticed Thalmic Labs shift its focus from mainstream consumers to specific applications. This is a logical move as I believe that this category of wearables has a real opportunity to cater to a specific group of people with particular needs — people whose jobs restrict them from using a keyboard, mouse or a touch-screen device (such as chefs, engineers or surgeons), or those with physical disabilities.
One of Thalmic Labs' most intriguing projects is its collaboration with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to enable amputees to control a modular prosthetic limb with two Myo armbands. This is one of the many capabilities that the company is exploring, and I believe that other similar companies will only be successful in the coming years if they integrate this approach into their long-term strategy.