The Bionic Man and Revolutionary Human-Machine Interaction from Thalmic Labs

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Picture credit and Prezi video of “Robotic Prothesis” by Aditha Deokar: https://prezi.com/vufuumhxbzrh/robotic-prosthesis/

Canadian software firm Thalmic Labs offered a breakthrough armband called “Myo” for patients with artificial limbs over a half decade ago. The Myo was first prototyped in 2012, and released to the public in 2014. Thalmic managed its own pre-order campaign prior to its launch. Led by University of Waterloo mechatronics engineers Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey, and Aaron Grant, Thalmic Labs has been trailblazing in engineering the design of computer-controlled electromechanical systems.

On their blog, Thalmic highlights creation of “the most complex arm in existence today“: some of their patients need to  undergo advanced targeted muscle reinnervation, a type of surgery that allows an amputee to operate the prosthetic arm by relying on the capture of electromyography (EMG) signalling. For amputees, the Myo platform enabled effective control of, and therapy around using prosthetic limbs.

Targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) is a new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand. By reassigning existing nerves, doctors can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosethic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform. Once experimental, this innovative procedure is now available at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, a Thalmic partner. A team from the University of Chicago and Northwestern writing in the Journal of American Medical Association concluded, “these results suggest that reinnervated muscles can produce sufficient EMG information for real-time control of advanced artificial arms.”

Founder Steve Lake outline the extraordinary opportunity for wearable technology in an August 2016 Economist article where calls for “a new metaphor for a new computer: “

It’s time for a new metaphor. We have changed what counts as a computer, but not how people think about them.  Maybe this time, the technology world can start with the metaphor, making technological marvels accessible to all from day one.

Today, MYO is implemented in a “gesture control armband” (a short video) which has multiple gross motor control applications but likely requires a certain amount of practice for certain fine motor control applications. As MedLine Plus explains:

Fine motor control is the coordination of muscles, bones, and nerves to produce small, exact movements. An example of fine motor control is picking up a small item with the index finger (pointer finger or forefinger) and thumb. The opposite of fine motor control is gross (large, general) motor control. An example of gross motor control is waving an arm in greeting. Problems of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves (nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord), muscles, or joints may all decrease fine motor control. People with Parkinson disease have trouble speaking, eating, and writing because they have lost fine motor control.

After raising $15.6M in three early stage venture capital rounds, Thalmic just scored a huge coup in raising $120M in a Series B round led by Intel Capital, Amazon Alexa Fund (AAF), Fidelity Investments Canada and others. Alexa Fund recipients include Nucleus, Luma, Sutro, Thalmic Labs, Invoxia, Musaic, Rachio, Scout Alarm, Garageio, Toymail, Dragon Innovation, MARA, Mojio, TrackR, KITT.AI, DefinedCrowd, and Ring. AAF believe experiences designed around the human voice are a more natural way for people to interface with technology. For example, Nucleus combines ease-of-use and the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to create an intuitive voice experience where customers can stream music, access custom Alexa skills, and more just by asking Alexa. TechCrunch explains correctly that this is a massive B round that puts a valuation in excess of $1B. Thalmic teases developers that it has a huge pipeline of new applications under development.

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When I was young, bionic astronaut Steve Austin aka the “Six Million Dollar Man” was a pretty accessible hero who simply did good acts and displayed courage. Flickering Myths details the backstory and excitement of Seasons One and Two.

“When Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors) barely survives the devastating crash of an experimental NASA aircraft, his shattered body is rebuilt using bionics, a secret new medical technology developed for the U.S. government by Dr. Rudy Wells. Outfitted with atomic-powered bionic legs, an arm, and an eye, Austin is now “better, stronger, faster” than he was before. Austin’s enhanced abilities are put to the test as he is sent on dangerous and covert missions for the government’s OSI division, under the supervision of director Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson).SEASON 1 finds Steve Austin facing a never-ending stream of assassins, kidnappers, diabolical scientists, nuclear threats, and even a powerful robot-double of one of his best friends. Besides the return of robot maker Dr. Dolenz, Steve Austin faces new conflicts in SEASON 2, including visitors from another galaxy, a crazed astronaut, a hostile Japanese WWII pilot, a spying news reporter, and even a Seven Million Dollar Man! But Austin’s toughest conflict occurs when he is reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner). After a tragic skydiving accident, Jaime becomes the world’s first bionic woman. Can their rekindled love survive as cyber-soul mates?”

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