First of its Kind Gesture Control Armband

2-26-2013 10-30-11 PM

Thalmic Labs, a Y Combinator-backed startup, unveils its first product, the world’s first camera-free gesture control platform. Unlike Kinect and similar competitors, this device takes a significant step forward by removing the reliance on a camera, and thus the requirement that users stay within the confines of the camera’s fixed view. By removing the camera, users are free to roam.

The new device, dubbed MYO, is worn around the forearm and measures subtle changes within arm muscles to send commands to any Bluetooth-capable device. The video is impressive. What remains to be seen is if the solution will make its way to market or whether it will grow to be one of those “always just around the corner” major product releases, heavy on promises but delivering little more than periodic YouTube videos, like Google Glasses is becoming.

What does this mean for healthcare? Simply put, nothing if it doesn’t work perfectly. Doctors and nurses don’t have time to be flailing their arms around trying to get someone’s chart to open or med order entered correctly. With swipe, voice recognition, handwriting recognition, and more traditional point-and-click technology, the user interface marketplace is saturated with more familiar options. Healthcare IT has enough usability issues as is, so MYO will have to make a compelling case for itself.

If, however, it does work flawlessly and usability concerns are nullified, a touch-free user interface could certainly help in a number of ways. It could allow surgeons to more easily view and manipulate images intra-operatively or help to reduce the transmission of infections within the hospital. The clinician walks into the room, flips through a chart on a wall-mounted monitor, enters some notes, signs some orders, and walks out – all hands free.

Implications for patients is less exciting. It is hard to see how MYO could grow to compete with the niche that Kinect has carved out for itself within healthcare. Because MYO only tracks the gestures of a single arm, the ability to aid in outpatient physical therapy is non-existent.

Myo is available for pre-order at $149 per unit and is expected to ship in late 2013.

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