Just last month, we unveiled the final design of the Myo armband. While the new design looks sleek and slim, the first prototypes of the Myo armband were anything but flattering. Today, we plan on taking you back through the past two years of development that went into the Myo armband and giving you a look at the earliest prototypes.
This was one of our first proof of concepts and although it may look like a piece of duct tape, it’s actually medical grade ECG sensors attached to button heads. These were then attached to an amplifier that was hooked up directly to the computer which would allow us to see the signals. As you can probably tell, not much thought went into the actual ‘design’. Proving that we had a viable idea was much more important at this point in development than proving that we could create a good-looking product, and realistically, all we needed to do was create something that could hold the sensors to the skin.
This prototype was our attempt to take the same basic design as the previous one, but integrate more of the components onto the forearm. Despite the improvements from the first prototype, this device still had to be connected over USB back to a computer in order to process the data. We knew that eventually we would need to remove the USB reliance entirely in order to create a truly mobile and useable prototype. And so it was on to the next prototype!
We were originally going to call the armband Thalmic Control – hence the nifty box covering we have on this prototype. The main difference between this prototype and the previous one was that this was the first device that integrated everything into one unit. All of the amplification was done onboard, it was battery powered, and the data was sent back to the computer over Bluetooth. We now had the mobility aspect down thanks to the Bluetooth connection, but we still needed to make the device more ‘wearable’.
Following the Thalmic Control prototype, we believed that the right direction to take was to use fabric. We created a fabric band that the sensors were attached to, kind of like an electronic sweatband. We quickly realized that sewing was not our forte. With this prototype we also began experimenting with more advanced custom designed sensors. The designs varied – some had silver bars contacting the skin, some with copper plates, and others that were completely insulated from the skin. While we made advancements in the sensor part of the hardware, there were still improvements to be made when it came to the aesthetics of the fabric Myo design.
We continued to experiment with the idea of making the Myo armband resemble a sweatband. This was an early mockup of the direction we wanted to go in – there would be one plastic pod sticking out of the fabric with the sensors woven into the underside. This would allow the device to easily accommodate different forearm sizes.
Eventually, we realized that fabric was not the way to go and these designs would prove to be the first and last time we put our sewing skills to the test as we headed in an all new direction.
After coming to the realization that alternative materials to fabric would be much more ideal, we changed courses which led us to the pod design. This was the first iteration of the “pod” Myo design. As it turns out, our decision to head in this direction was a great one as we built it prior to a major investment meeting which led us to raise our first round of funding. Each pod contained a sensor and they were all connected together via rubber cords. The larger pod in the middle contains the processing board, and the adjacent pods contained the batteries. Evidently, more work was needed to really nail down the inner workings of the pod design in order to avoid the wires protruding out of the pod shells.
Which brings us to our 3D printed Myo armband. Much like the previous design, this prototype had rigid pods to hold the sensors in place, and rubber cords to connect them all together. This prototype was by far the most significant step forward as we finally had a design that had more reliable sensors, was completely self-contained, and could be assembled in higher quantities on our 3D printer right in our lab.
Overall, this Myo armband had us headed in the right direction as it allowed us to move past the ‘proof of concept’ prototypes to an actual functional product.
Once we had a working prototype, we began work on the final consumer facing design. This was one of the first concepts from our industrial design firm. This design used a C-shaped spring band that acted as the internal structure, along with some elastic cement which would close the band and apply tension. Although this design was much sleeker than the previous prototypes, it just wasn’t the direction we saw ourselves going in. For one thing, this design didn’t allow for a one-size-fits-all band which we knew was important to us. We decided that for our next consumer facing design, we needed to go back to what we had learned from our initial prototypes and apply what worked to the next design contender.
This design was the first one that we put into production. Now known as the Myo Alpha unit, these were assembled in-house and sent to our early Alpha developers. Pulling from our first rigid design prototype, the Alpha unit was created from injection molding and contained eight pods, an incorporated printed flexible circuit, and rigid PCB sensors. The Alpha unit proved to work well for development purposes but it was clear it was not ready for prime time. In order to really achieve our original goals, we needed a more streamlined product.
We finally reached a design that encompassed our original vision of the final Myo armband. For this design we knew that we needed a more sleek design than the Myo Alpha unit, and the goal was to produce a device with broad aesthetic appeal but also with the ability to incorporate the electrical and mechanical functional requirements. We began work on a concept that involved using an elastomer accordion. The main challenge with this design was trying to determine how the extremely delicate and flexible circuit could be buried in an injection molded part. With the work of our industrial design firm, our in-house mechanical team, and our manufacturing partners, we eventually were able to overcome this road block and create the ultimate Myo armband using manufacturing techniques that had never before been attempted.
The final armband features a state-of-the-art design and is comprised of a thin, expandable band, which is half the thickness of the Myo Alpha units. This band also weighs in at just under 95 grams and still maintains the one-size-fits-all standard.
As you can tell, the journey from cloth and wires to state-of-the-art design was a long one, but well worth it to get to the design we have today. As recently revealed, the final Myo armband is the hardware that we will be shipping to all pre-order customers over the upcoming months and we could not be more excited to get one onto your arm!