Thalmic Labs, makers of the gesture control armband MYO may be working on a new VR controller, a wristband device which senses the position of your fingers. The company is teasing new products after closing a whopping $120 million Series B investment.

Thalmic Labs just secured a cool $120M in Series B funding from some very high profile investors. Led by Intel Capital, the Amazon Alexa Fund, and Fidelity Investments Canada, the new tranche of money will allow the company to “realize our vision for the next era of computing, where the lines between humans and digital technology become increasingly blurred.”

That’s a huge sum of money for a company whose first product, the Myo armband, fell short of its potential and received a lukewarm critical reception. The MYO detects gestures by sensing the tensing of muscles in your arm as you move it. The armband extrapolates gestures from your movements combined with data from motion sensors, and wirelessly transmits input data to the host application.

myo-armband

In short, when wearing a MYO armband, you can move and rotate your arm and make general, broad gestures which can be used as input for a game or application. It’s a great idea, but this first generation unit was limited in its tracking fidelity, and despite being poised partly by the company as a VR input device, it saw little to no adoption there.

thalmic-labs-branding
Thalmic Labs’ latest branding makes it clear that VR is a priority | Photo courtesy Thalmic Labs

We’ve learned however that Thalmic Labs have may be working on a new, much more advanced input device, one which is designed very much with virtual reality in mind. According to an anonymous source claiming to have links with a former Thalmic Labs employee, the company has hired people from the VR and human computer interaction spaces, and their next big product is targeted for launch by the end of the year. The company’s revamped website and medium post announcing their latest investment show VR iconography among other devices like smartphones and computers (seen in the photo above).

thalmic-labs-myo-next-generationAccording to this source, who provided the previously unseen rendering on the right, the new device is a wristband that senses a much finer level of gesture detail, seemingly able to detect individual finger-based gestures. The source claims that the core technology behind the new device is based on this patent, filed in June of last year by Thalmic Labs under the title “Systems, articles, and methods for wearable human-electronics interface devices”. We’ve reached out to Thalmic for comment but have yet to hear back.

The patent documentation is extremely dense, however it does clearly include images depicting a wrist-mounted device which incorporates integrated sensors. The device is initially described as “an exemplary wearable human-electronics interface device,” which “may bend to encircle a user’s wrist,” and “may be sized and dimensioned to encircle a different appendage of the user.” In the case of this patent however, the focus is clearly on the wrist.

The sensors seen in the image below (referred to as Fig. 2) are “are spaced-apart from one another so that they are distributed over at least a portion of the circumference of the user’s wrist”, each of those sensors is coupled with a processing unit (see Fig.2 ‘220’) and is described to “classify” the signals it received. In other words, interpret the data and decide on what it means in terms of input.

myo-next-gen-3

The device includes a transmitter (‘240’ in Fig. 2 above) which is used to “transmit at least one interfacial signal that, when received by at least one downstream receiving electronic device (not shown in FIG. 2), effects an interaction between the user and the at least one downstream receiving electronic device.” In layman’s terms, it sends data to another device (computer / phone etc.) for use as input data.

The patent also focuses heavily on examples of the types of input that this new device is capable of detecting. Repeated references to “finger tap” is made and is illustrated (as seen below – click images to enlarge and browse). In addition different finger positions are depicted as producing different signal data, picked up by the wristband. The patent seems to indicate the integrated are largely made up of MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) Microphones which pick up the vibrations caused by flexing of the fingers.

Additionally, integrated inertial sensors are mentioned in order to capture rotation and “broader motions” of the user’s arms and wrist. The patent was filed in June of last year but only published in December 2015.

It should be pointed out that the information regarding Thalmic Labs intentions for this patent and the alleged wristband controller are from an unconfirmed source, but with news of Thalmic Labs’ huge investment emerging, the timing of the potential leak and the patent documentation gives us reason to believe the company has something significant in the works.

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  • Get Schwifty!

    VR is a bust – don’t know why people are everyday investing millions upon millions on what is obviously a failed industry.

    Just joking, my point is I find it hard to understand why some folks are acting like VR has failed based on Oculus and Vive sales; there is almost every day some announcement of this sort showing a full on industry interest which clearly is driven by more than the sales of those two products. Now, if PSVR fails, then I am worried :)

    • Bob

      People keep talking about vr in terms of visual, audio and hand input but what is hardly mentioned is locomotion. How does one navigate infinite distances within virtual worlds without running into a wall and yet retain the feeling of actually using your legs to move? And how do you package this device into something simple, compact, and affordable?

      • keiron

        There aren’t any solid solutions at the moment.

        Using teleportation to move around the VR world gives the feeling of exploration, albeit without the physical movement of the legs.

        • Bob

          Eventually it needs to be solved because as virtual reality advances through the realms of visual, audio and input, people will inevitably want much more from this technology in order to further expand their own experiences such as mountain climbing which obviously cannot be accomplished naturally through teleportation.

      • Albert Hartman

        I think I saw a solution in the Matrix film series. They put a plug into the back of your head.

      • Brandodactyl

        Maybe legs aren’t great at infinite distances. Maybe your legs don’t make it to the future.

      • nejihiashi88

        maybe you didn’t know about virtuix omni you can walk as you wish in it.

        • Bob

          Yes I’m aware of it but it’s not a device that can be taken seriously because it’s not a proper solution.

  • psuedonymous

    Like the Myo, this suffers from the critical fault that the electrodes are not placed by a lab technician or mounted in a rigid stump-cup. The ability to localise signal even vaguely is going to rely 100% on the user correctly following precise instructions on how to put it on and calibrate it (EVERY time it is worn), and even THEN measuring myoelectric signals to the fidelity of individual finger movements is right out.

    The Myo did not come close to practically implementing what was shown in the concept video. This will not either. It’s the same reason the Emotiv Epoc is nowhere near as capable as a correctly applied EEG electrode cap, and something like the Mindflex, Mindwave or Insight is utter worthless garbage.

    • Graham J ⭐️

      I don’t think this is electrode-based like their previous device:

      “the integrated [sensors] are largely made up of MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) Microphones which pick up the vibrations caused by flexing of the fingers.”

    • Nigerian Wizard

      Agreed. This will never come close to being as accurate as individual point tracking. How this got 0.12 Billion dollars in funding is a mystery.

    • Vic

      Whatever vapor these companies are using for their investor-demos is working. If any of these so-called VR journalists had any balls they would publish a copy of the NDA’s these companies are using to hide their scams, rather than just parroting what they want them to say!

  • Graham J ⭐️

    “may be sized and dimensioned to encircle a different appendage of the user.”

    bow chika

  • Albert Hartman

    I’m happy to see the investor community supporting them. I do not expect them to play a major role in the upcoming VR/AR era. However, a lot of knowledge will be produced and spread out.

  • bladestorm91

    I still much prefer what AxonVR is doing, this device is interesting, but it still doesn’t solve the feedback problem.

  • Jack H

    I had started something similar but was planning on approximately a total of 90 of the smallest piezo sensors i could find so as to oversample or a least guarantee a sample for each tendon of the user’s digits and palm. A little loop from the wristband which runs around the base of the thumb prevents too much device movement. A small neural network, such as the one on the Intel Quark could be used to train for the different pressure levels for different tendons moving in different wrists. A long cable-type piezo is used to measure the overall absolute and relative change in wrist cross-sectional area compared to localised pressure differences above tendons.

    I remember a college project “Deus Ex Aria” (possibly Imperial College/ College Of Art and Design in London) had a crowdfunding project based on a band similar in function to this whereby it was suitable for attachment to smart watches.

    As an aside: I mention the measurement of absolute position using piezo-electric sensors however they are normally only suitable for detecting changes as they suffer from current leak. But there is a way to measure absolute position if the piezo sensors are primed in a different mode with a time varying current.

    Kind regards,
    Jack
    Halo AR

  • VRgameDevGirl

    Awesome. I’m looking forward to furture input for VR. Can’t wait to see all the need ideas.

  • Laura Aldi

    Thank you for the great article and awesome graphics. : )

  • Herman Munster

    with those on……and my rift….. I COULD BE SPIDERMAN!!!!!!!!