Playing with Tech: Myo Armband


RATING: 2.5 

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The Gesture Control Armband You’ll Forget You Own

The Myo armband promises to let you wirelessly control technology at a distance with gestures and motion. Browse the web with the flick of a wrist, navigate your iTunes library from across the room, or fly a connected toy drone touch-free.

It also features a preprogrammed control for presentation software—you can control a digital pointer or zoom in on slides, touch-free—and an education capacity that promises a new, hands-on way to teach programming concepts.

Setting up the Myo is simple. It charges via a supplied USB cable and connects to your device via a USB Bluetooth adapter, also included. It takes about 15 minutes for the companion software to install and for the user to complete the calibration tutorial. Then it’s ready for use—slip it over your wrist and have at it.

That’s where things get tricky. The control gestures are straightforward, but the armband has a hard time distinguishing between hand motions unless the user sits perfectly straight and has ample elbowroom to perform the broad sweeping gestures. Time to clear off my desktop mountain of papers.

Moreover, the video tutorial clips have told me the armband requires direct contact with the skin, so I’ve had to change into a short-sleeved tee. Immediately I think of tan-lines and my present situation of a peeling sunburn. The Myo doesn’t irritate my skin, but it is collecting a noticeable amount of small white flakes. And if the tutorial actors are any indication of Myo’s target demographic, the armband will almost certainly obscure the sickest illustration of your sleeve tattoo. First impression: this piece of tech is not for the vain.

But it may be for the nerds. I feel like I’ve dressed up as Lara Croft for my morning coffee and podcast. I open iTunes, spread my fingers (play,) and rotate my fist clockwise (volume inc.) And that’s it. Now I’m just wearing a plastic armband. I yawn and stretch, and the drop down menu triggers. I start on my computer-based tasks, hoping to see an increase in efficiency or even just an increase in my amusement.

At the end of the day, I am not amused. The armband has a 15-foot range, so I’ve been tethered to my computer or otherwise am slipping the band on and off, on and off, forgetting about it for an hour, and then on and off. Since I’m already right next to my computer, it’s just as easy to click between open tabs and applications as it is to lean back far enough to make level, measured gestures. My hand motions still aren’t registering half of the time, and my body language has become tense and impassioned.

I’m ready to grab a drink and power down.

Much wearable technology is built on the premise that its user should not slow down. Your email can be delivered to your watch—don’t stop to take your phone out of your pocket. A Fitbit can remind you to take a break from your sedentary graphic design job and get moving. Wearable tech activated by motion [note to self: design wearable tech responsive to emotion, order robot to order Seamless + draw bath] like the Myo should, in theory, free up your hands so that your workday is more akin to a match of Wii Tennis. But with only five recognizable gestures, the Myo’s scope of use is too narrow.

The Myo also requires an unexpected amount of focus and intention, to the point of inhibiting any non-command motion. Talos creative lead Emma, a professional dancer with ample muscle development and, like me, a woman of average height, also had problems with the reading hand signals. She hoped it would be a neat tool for hosting a party or playing music while making dinner and keeping her hands free, leaving her to mingle and mosey about her apartment at leisure. Unfortunately, many of the command gestures were too close to normal hand movements such as picking up a glass or holding a spatula, and her dinner playlist quickly developed schizophrenia. 

Our executive had a similar experience while trying to give a presentation using the Myo to flip through slides. He talks with his hands, as most people do, and, to the Myo, there was no differentiating his deliberate gestures from the general bodily embellishment that accompanies his speech. He did, however, find the Myo’s capacities to fly a small drone and to control a sock puppet application great fun. Not the most useful application of technology—but who doesn't like a shiny new toy?

In a time of relative convenience and abundance, what’s one more gadget on the shelf? Just because I can command an iTunes library from a 15-foot range doesn’t mean that I will experience an increase in quality of life, will feel any less tethered to my electronics, or will listen to music any more than I already do. My recommendation is to ask what your wearable technologies really give to you in place of what your old technology lacks, and then decide if it’s worth investing your time (and money) to integrate a new device into your life.

A gesture control armband seems exciting and new age, but if I’m still sitting in front of my computer, still listening to the same music, how new age is it? Sounds like status quo, to me.