As reviews go, this one’ll have the longest backstory of any to date. And I’m including everything I’ve ever backed through kickstarter.com.
Nearly two years ago, I found out about a forthcoming…thing. A sorta cybernetic device designed to translate bioelectrical impulses to robotic commands. I’m not even overplaying that; it’s literally what the device is meant to do. But, first, it’s meant to exist eventually. And I can get in on that nowish, early in 2013, for about $150.
I’ve got $150. Hit me.
So, I preordered the Myo. Nearly two years ago. And then I waited for what’s objectively been a long time now.
I’m not sure anyone’s got a full list of the various reasons for the delay—from the thing not being ready two years ago to the process of mailing these things out being more complicated than expected—but, after a couple years of EMails assuring me that they were working on it, Thalmic finally got me my cybernetic thingy, sometime yesterday.
I got a stuff.
I’m not sure precisely when I got it. Despite the thing being insured and going through Customs, ?UPS [I'm not even sure who delivered it, actually] just tossed it behind the milkbox out front, figuring I’d run across it sometime. Kinda the same thing they did with my second ZBoard, though that was a little too big to fit behind anything smaller than one of the hedges.
So, let’s open the box…
I think half the price of this thing went into the packaging.
…and see what’s inside….
Bright Side: If this thing needs this specific USB Cable, even I won’t confuse it with a dozen black ones around here.
As it happened, Hunter brought this thing in to me right while I was doing five other things. So I thought I’d charge it up while downloading whatever drivers:
Also, they’ve got a more professional shot of what’s in the box.
But then I got a popup about updating the firmware on something that didn’t even exist last week. So I did that, and started configuring the thing:
It seemed accurate enough to me.
That took a bit of time. More, in fact, than the configuration app seemed to assume it would. Eventually, I stopped doing what the app thought I should be doing, and zeroed everything out; once I explained to the computer which arm the Myo was on, and which way the USB Port was aimed, it started learning a little faster.
More or less.
On their site, there’s a list of programmes and apps and things that the Myo is already confirmed to work with. And each has a little video showing you how to do various things. Of course, the part I missed was that the firmware update had already installed all these drivers, so downloading each resulted in a relatively confusing warning about each already having been installed. Until I finally read one of the warnings instead of telling the computer to shaddup.
Of things I already had on my computer, the first one I tried out was VLC. Which is kinda the new WinAmp.
Once I had the Myo understanding what I was doing, it mostly worked. Spread fingers once to play; repeat to pause. Wave right to fastforward; wave back to rewind. Make fist and rotate right or left to turn volume up or down. All fairly obvious once you’re doing it.
Next, I tried the thing out with Minecraft:
Just you wait until I invent a real shovel capable of destroying things from five metres away….
This is where I noticed a real flaw, and eventually a bugfix which makes little sense in the physical world.
The flaw: the Myo tracks pretty well when I’m moving my arm around to look left and right and up and down; the problem is toward the edges, where it seems to shift beyond my actual stoppingpoint—meaning that, by looking left and then right again, while I’m moving my arm the same distance on my end, the screen gets lost and has me looking kinda down and to the left…and now there’s no way I can look all the way to the right without, like, standing up and turning completely around.
I’m not sure whether that’s really a flaw in the Myo, or just that I’m not used to it yet. What I am sure of is that, until I find out for sure, one thing I’m not doing is controlling a relatively fragile CamDrone with this thing.
The bugfix sounds clever enough: it turns out that, when you’re activating the Myo, by doubletapping your middle finger against your thumb, your arm should be otherwise relaxed. Which sounds easy enough, if you’re in an armchair. I’m not. The only way to relax my arm, where I’m sitting, is to let it hang in space to my side. And, from that position, you can guess where Minecraft will think I should be looking if I lift my arm all the way back up to horizontal.
What may be a slight problem for me is that I’m not what you’d call fat. So having the Myo on my arm ‘at the thickest point’ doesn’t quite feel like it’s slipping around, but it also doesn’t feel as snug as my watch does. So I wonder whether some of what I’m doing is getting lost, simply because moving my fingers bulges the muscles in my forearm and creates little gaps where there’s no fat to ooze around and keep the skin in contact with anything. I’m not sure it’s a huge deal, since the device only complains that it’s lost contact when I actually take it off; but I’m allowing that it might be missing various subtleties without actually knowing what it’s missing.
That’s pretty much the device as it currently is. It works with VLC and NetFlix and Minecraft and various other things; it’s projected to work with drones and other toys, and probably other programmes. And that, since I’m one of the first hundred people to use one of these things, leaves me thinking about the future.
One thing I’m thinking about, which I haven’t tested yet, is controlling music on my phone. There’s an app for that [which I haven't used yet], so it should be possible; but I’ve got the Myo on my right arm, which is also the arm connected to the hand holding my cane while I’m limping around. One thing I figured this would prove good for was replacing the music controller in my smartwatch, since that relies on using my other hand to hit buttons; whether I can lean on a cane without driving this thing mad is something I wonder about. Probably. Even if it’s just a matter of zeroing again and moving the Myo to my left arm.
Another idea, based on playing Minecraft with this thing, is that I should be able to use the Myo as a flying mouse. I can’t think of a good reason why I couldn’t point around at the screen and have the mousepointer go where I’m pointing; then I could make a fist to leftclick or spread my fingers to rightclick. For whatever reason, that’s not apparently a preloaded option. So that seems like a waste.
One other thing I could probably narrow down by looking a few things up: the Myo works on a BlueTooth feed, theoretically allowing it to control anything a phone could. So now I’m trying to remember whether my XBox uses BlueTooth. That’s the 360, by the way; I haven’t yet been talked into getting an XBone for any reason. The thing does work with a few SteamGames though—CivV for sure; a few others I haven’t got, maybe.
I’ve got what you could have called a smarthouse, about ten years ago. If I dumped a few thousand bucks into updating thermostats and whatever, I could control various elements with this thing. Though, if I’m anywhere that I can see the thermostat, I could also take two steps forward and just physically thump a button. So that may be a novelty, at best.
One thing I noticed in a hurry was that this thing only works on one arm. I don’t think it would help much if I had two of them. But, while I’m magically doing stuff with the Myoed hand, I’m inclined to add to that with the unMyoed hand; and that doesn’t work. I can think of a few things I should be able to do, if I had two of these on at once.
Probably, everything I’m thinking toward will happen eventually. I’ve got what amounts to a prototype here, full of potential but displaying the odd flaw. And with a bit of a learning curve: wiggling your fingers to do things may look fluid and natural from the outside; on the inside, where the Myo is reading for bioelectric impulses, doing the same exact thing twice is tricky. It’s a little like trying to sweep dirt into a dustpan by using a deskfan: possible, but only after a lot of practice.
So, really, this is something of a preliminary review. I’ll play with it more, here and out in the world, getting used to it and seeing what future updates become available.
For now, I’ll say that, for $150 [no idea what the final MSRP will be, or when], it’s really pretty cool; and, if half the things I’m expecting work out, the future’s gonna be far cooler.
Have a webcomic: