Hey there, my name is Chris and I’m a developer evangelist here at Thalmic Labs. Part of my job is to take the Myo armband out on the road to hackathons, so that the smartest young minds in tech can put it through its paces. I recently took the Myo armband to PennApps, where I helped student hackers and took careful notes: sometimes these kids dream up uses more imaginative than what we come up with at home.

I’ve seen some of the mind blowing things hackers across North America can really do with the Myo armband as I’ve traveled to a different hackathon every weekend for about as long as I can remember. It’s even more stunning when you consider that they’re working in the pressure cooker that is a hackathon and have anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to make something from scratch.

When I tell my folks I’m headed to yet another hackathon to let people crack into the Myo armband, break it, change it, and see what it’s capable of, they always seem a bit perplexed. “Aren’t hackers… criminals?”

Having survived the 90’s myself I can hardly blame them. We’ve changed what the word “hacker” means in a hurry: most of the apps that get created at these events are designed to do things like help people more quickly and accurately measure their blood glucose, automate frustrating daily tasks, assist elderly and disabled people, give enterprise solutions to hospitals, and so on. The students who come out to these events are principled, cause-driven young people who sincerely believe they can change the world with technology. I think they’re right.

They also make awesome games.

I just got back from PennApps, billed as the premiere college hackathon. After what I saw last weekend, it’s hard for me to disagree. I’m gonna run you through a handful of my favorite hacks from the event and introduce you to the teams who made them, in no particular order.

AirGuitar

It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it?

AirGuitar lets you rock out with an air guitar that actually produces music. The video is cool, but it doesn’t come close to the feeling you get actually watching someone fire this application up. When Jihun started strumming and making music out of thin air with his bare hands, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It’s the kind of toy that shows how the Myo armband is in a whole new category of technological interaction.

The team behind AirGuitar.

Magic Board

I’m not gonna get too far ahead of the video on this one because it speaks for itself.

So apparently magic is now a thing that can happen. Trust me, you haven’t heard the last of the Magic Board team. They hacked a Boosted Board; a hyper-efficient, lightweight longboard powered by an electric motor and controlled with a hand remote. Since the Myo armband turns your hand into a remote, the Magic Board team hacked the two together for a totally seamless experience. It takes a second to get used to the sense of touch, but when you get the hang of it it’s astonishing.

The team behind Magic Board with yours truly.

It’s also going to be important for the Earth. Boosted Boards solve a famous problem with public transit called the “Last Mile,” getting people the last mile from their bus or rail hub to their destination. As the lightest electric vehicle ever made, the Boosted Board offers a clever solution to this problem: you can sling it on your back and only use it when you need to. Plus it’s super fun to ride. Integrated with a Myo armband it’s practically a superpower.

Swiper

I absolutely love the way these guys think. They’re the types of hackers who not only have talent and imagination, but a great eye for the problems people face every day and how to solve them.

The Swiper team.

Smartwatches are awesome; lots of folks back at the Lab wear them every day (myself included) and have found great ways to improve their daily efficiency with the convenient display. But no one has really cracked the right way to interact with a smartwatch yet; it’s a big problem for this new wearable tech. Enter Swiper: this team has found a way to make the Myo armband control a Pebble smartwatch in a deeply intuitive way, and without requiring you to retrieve your phone from your pocket. Everything happens on your arm: the gold standard for smartwatch control.

By the end of the 36 hour event, they were even starting to give commands to the watch by drawing letters in the air. I’m incredibly excited about this, since combining motion with gesture means that you can use the Myo armband to give a near-infinite number of commands to a piece of technology. The first team to really unlock this part of the Myo armband’s potential is going to absolutely disrupt wearable technology.

So that’s it from PennApps for now, but check back soon for coverage of Hack the North: a massive Hackathon that happened right around the corner at the University of Waterloo.

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