The Myo armband uses muscle recognition to give you wireless control of various devices, without the need for touch, voice, or cameras.
Meet a Maker / Co-Founder Matthew Bailey
Matthew Bailey recently told us his maker story, and shared some insights into what goes on behind the scenes at Thalmic Labs. Matthew is one of the three people who developed the very first Myo armband prototypes, and is still heavily involved in its mechanical design and manufacturing.
Matthew makes technology to understand what humans intend, through mechanical engineering, manufacturing, and pattern recognition.
Co-founders (left to right): Matthew Bailey, Stephen Lake, and Aaron Grant.
How did you get started as a maker?
Thalmic has been the only company that I’ve worked at since graduating from the Mechatronics Engineering program at the University of Waterloo in 2012, but I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands dirty. As a visiting scholar at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), I worked on a project which was an electronic aid for the visually impaired.
My father has also been a big influence on me being a “maker”. He’s an electrician who built and modified his own cars, houses, furniture, and much more. At an early age, I began helping him with all of his projects, from welding a wrought iron railing together to building an extension onto our house or changing the brakes on our cars.
Who would you consider to be your favorite maker?
Elon Musk. He is a brilliant mind with the guts to solve the world’s toughest challenges. Everything he says and does is extremely well thought out and accurate.
Matthew (far right) with other developers, testing Myo to fly the Parrot AR Drone.
What was the problem you set out to solve in creating Myo?
We wanted to develop a device that would connect the real and the digital worlds more naturally and intuitively as we move towards wearable and ubiquitous computing.
Can you walk us through your design development, from initial prototypes to the current version?
We went through a ton of permutations before landing on the final design. It started as a sweatband (requiring me to develop some sewing skills), then moved to 3D printed plastic pods held together by elastic, then to our Alpha unit which had moving and sliding parts. After a lot of sweat, we landed on the final design we have today.
Is there anything unique about your manufacturing process?
We needed to develop novel manufacturing processes that allowed us to run our electronics through a flexible rubber material that holds the Myo together, while also providing the elastic force needed to stay on your arm. It results in a robust and sleek design, both of which are critical for a wearable product.
First proof of concept: medical grade ECG sensors attached to button heads.
Left: this version still required USB connection. Right: Originally the “Thalmic Control,” this prototype was the first to integrate bluetooth.
The next iterations experimented in fabric to create something of an electronic sweatband.
Left: the first iteration of the “pod” design: each contained a sensor, processing board, or batteries. Right: the first 3D printed version.
The inside workings of a pre-production unit.
Alpha: the first production unit sent to developers.
Final Myo design: for the most recent design, the main goal was to create a device that still meets all of the technical requirements, but with broader aesthetic appeal.
The Making of Myo
The Thalmic Labs team makes the entire Myo on site: prototyping, testing, manufacturing, and shipping all in a facility adjacent to their offices in Kitchener, Ontario. In the lab: this video goes behind the scenes to talk about Myo supply chain and manufacturing.
The in-house 3D printer at work creating prototype components.
3D printed materials ready for assembly.
Testing: the team had to find a way to emulate signals from a human forearm in a repeatable and controlled way. They created a shaped mandrel, with embedded muscle signal emulators.
Alpha units ready in preparation for shipment.
In addition to multimedia, smart home, and smartphone applications, the possibilities for this kind of technology are seemingly endless. One application will likely be in the workforce, where wearables like this will improve productivity, increase collaboration, and enhance overall effectiveness.
Here are the people who have contributed to the making of Myo: