My name is Steve, better known as Steve-O here at Thalmic, and I’m one of the industrial designers who worked on the Myo armband. I started working with the founders of Thalmic Labs as a consultant two years ago, and I’m still here. I love working on interesting, difficult puzzles, and designing the Myo armband yielded plenty of them.
Getting the Myo armband to market has been an adventure. Nobody has tried to make an armband that turns your hand into a remote control, at least not that we know of. We had to write the rulebook as we went along, and biotechnology is tricky. Each person’s arm is unique: muscle strength, size, anatomy, and gesture style vary from person to person. The band needed to not only expand to fit on every arm while making contact with the skin, but maintain its symmetry to read gestures from the user’s hand.
Most of the time, making things ourselves suited us fine. We bought the equipment we needed, like 3D printers, to quickly prototype designs and try things out. We would order in materials and make functioning prototypes by hand, coming up with new techniques to meet the demanding hardware requirements of the Myo armband.
It also needed the right look. Aesthetics are important, and as designers we’re modernists. For us, simpler is better. The Myo armband has as few parts as possible: an expanding flex, the sensor pods, and that’s it. This gives it a distinctive look on the arm and fits with the slim, simple, forward-looking design we wanted for the product.
We didn’t fully appreciate how futuristic our device was until we went looking for suppliers and manufacturers to make Myo armbands at volume. Most of these folks were used to supplying parts for things like cellphones; they hadn’t met anyone looking to connect eight EMG sensors with a stretchy elastomer that had to carry electricity between sensor pods and fit on arms of various sizes. Most suppliers said that making the Myo armband would be flat-out impossible.
We eventually found some fantastic suppliers, and worked with them to develop new manufacturing techniques for making the parts and components needed to manufacture volumes. Since everything we were trying meant we had to break new ground, myself and co-founder Matthew Bailey would live in hotels for months at a stretch, working directly with suppliers on their manufacturing floor. We would run test after test, night after night, sometimes doing things by hand until we could figure out how to make the machinery cooperate.
Eventually, we did get it to cooperate. We’ve shipped out nearly all of our pre-ordered units, and soon we’ll be taking orders on Amazon.com. It’s been a privilege to see the Myo armband go from an idea on paper to a product sold by the largest online retailer in the United States.
Working on the industrial design of the Myo armband has been an incredibly exciting, rewarding process—and coming in to work every day with a group about the same age as my daughter has given me plenty of tales to tell. I can only hope it will turn into something huge in the future.