I’ve often been asked how I ended up at Thalmic Labs after spending the last ten years of my life developing products in Chicagoland and Silicon Valley. Shortly after being introduced via email to Thalmic Labs Co-Founder and CEO, Stephen Lake, we met in San Francisco and discussed our visions of where we saw the Myo™ armband in a year and beyond. It was apparent we were on the same page, and that there would be incredible synergy in working together at Thalmic. Although I had a faint idea that I would need to re-locate to Canada, once offered the job I found out for certain that my role as Thalmic’s VP of Hardware would be based out of Waterloo, Ontario. Knowing that there would be instances where I would still need to work out of Silicon Valley, Stephen suggested that we get a Double to make working easier during those times.
Initially I thought that this was a joke, but I quickly found out that the device had already been delivered to the office! At first sight, it looks like an iPad face-plant waiting to happen, but the first test drive went quite well as I managed to avoid running into any people or doorways. The design of the Double enables a very resilient upright position for the ‘face’ which is basically an iPad inserted upside down into a snug slot. This is on top of the adjustable ‘neck’ which can be raised or lowered to emulate a standing or sitting position. The front facing camera works as the eye, while the rear facing one provides a downward view for ‘watching your step’.
I started off using the Double with the iPad app but quickly found it to be a bit tiresome and switched to Chrome. While this proved to be a big improvement, it still did not allow me to seamlessly multitask without keeping a peripheral eye on what was going on while reading an email, answering a phone call, or replying to messages on our company IM. That did not keep me from having hallway chats in motion, and, on occasions, chasing the Parrot A.R. Drone (or having it chase me) around the office. It also gave a new meaning to the phrase “that’s how I roll”. There were a couple of instances where ‘I’ tripped and had to be assisted to get back on my ‘feet’, usually followed by the question, “Are you ok?”.
Determined to take integration of futuristic tech within the office to the next level, the hardware team undertook controlling the Double with a Myo armband as one of their projects for our internal Thalmic Hack’d Day. By mapping gestures to the corresponding keys for direction, and then integrating this into the Double application, I was able to control the direction of the Double remotely with the Myo armband. By using the accelerometer to measure the pitch of my arm, I could also control the speed at which it was rolling. This integration proved to be a pivotal moment as one could switch windows, type, converse, and roll through the office with full functionality. Soon enough, navigating around chairs, posts, and people became second nature – similar to when your muscle memory adapts to the controls of a new video game.
While using the Double within the workplace is just as fun and humorous as it sounds, what makes this a real wonder is that it’s even an option. Even while working in the tech industry, it can still be impressive to see how far technology has come to allow us to effortlessly go about our lives, regardless of whether the inconvenience is having to work from home or having to work remotely from another country. When I wasn’t able to be in the office, the Double allowed me to interact with my team as if I was actually there to guide and lead them – proving to be much more efficient than a phone call or email. The Double also allowed me to attend meetings in real-time, and ‘walk’ around the office to discuss issues with other departments; having the Myo armband as an option to control the Double only upped the ante. With a Myo armband on my physical arm, being used to control my ‘virtual body’ 3000 miles away… well, it doesn’t get much more cyborg than that. Short of a hologram, this is the next best option to interacting with co-workers over great distances.
Similar to how controls were developed for the Double, many developers have also found the Myo armband to provide unparalleled accuracy in navigating robots (Clearpath Robotics), Spheros, and flying drones (Parrot). With such a diverse number of integrations just within the field of navigation, the possibilities for Myo-enabled control seem virtually endless, which is enough to make any engineer excited. I’m so glad I decided to make the leap to join this team (even if it was a only virtual one at times) as it’s this type of forward, out of the box thinking, that allows tech companies like Thalmic Labs to succeed in this ever-changing technical world.
*Double is a trademark owned by Double Robotics. *