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Myo & Google Glass: Why Gesture-Based Wearables May Break Down Barriers


Myo, a gesture-based piece of wearable technology, pushes into the healthcare space. Photo provided.

When you schedule a one-on-one interaction with your physician, you’ll often find that he or she is nose deep in the computer, checking or entering your background information, examining blood work and asking questions. Augmedix CEO Ian Shakil says this is one of the key problems for today’s physicians: the computer has become a barrier for effective interaction and care.

“Right now, as you know, doctors spend 30 to 40 percent of their days toiling away on electronic medical records – type, type, type, often right in front of the patient,” Shakil says.

This is why Augmedix, recently announced a partnership with Thalmic Labs, hoping to combine their technologies to present a novel solution to this problem. Thalmic Labs is an engineering and computing company based in Waterloo, Canada that focuses on wearable gesture control devices. You may have heard about their crowning achievement, the Myo, which is an armband that allows the control of digital devices through arm movements and gestures via Bluetooth signals.

Augmedix, which grew out of Shakil’s fascination with the earliest prototype of Google Glass in 2012, is a startup based out of San Francisco that aims to “re-humanize the doctor-patient interaction” by investing in technology that unshackles physicians from computers so they can focus on patient care. Augmedix processes documentation and EMR work for physicians, allowing them to spend more time face to face with their patients.

Although Thalmic and Audmedix differ slightly in their missions – the Myo is currently used for mostly non-healthcare programming – Myo’s technology fits surprisingly well into Augmedix’s goal of freeing physicians.

In this technological partnership, Myo’s gesture control system is used by physicians to gather medical data. Originally, this system was based off an analysis of movement patterns in athletes, according to Thalmic Labs CEO and co-founder Stephen Lake, who has a background in bionic engineering. The development of this technology required the acknowledgment that there were ways to control devices other than with our hands, which will hopefully come in handy for healthcare.

“If we can detect what muscle you’re using, we should be able to detect what gesture you’re using, and that would solve the input challenge for wearable computers,” Lake says.

Myo comes in the form of an armband that can be paired with Google Glass. A physician will wear both technologies when interacting with patients during examinations. This will be beneficial because certain gestures can be preset on the Myo, allowing physicians to interact with their electronic medical records and to add new information to reports by moving their hands left or right. A squeezing and releasing motion provides a zoom function for the Glass’s onboard camera, too – and that’s only the start of the ways that gestures can be integrated into Glass’s capabilities. Most importantly, integrating Myo with Google Glass could solve the “talking to your glasses” problem that many physicians feel apprehensive about.

Right now, the Glass and Myo partnership has mostly been implemented within clinic-based practices (like the one in the above video) and in ambulatory settings – places where the patient is awake in a room or on the table. “In large part, that is primary care, but it’s also many other specialties like pain management and dermatology,” Shakil says.

“We also have different partners we work with in different niches,“ Lake says. “In the operating room, we are letting surgeons manipulate MRI and CT images using the Myo.”

Ultimately, Shakil and Lake also hope to extend their technology beyond the primary care setting. They’re working on an application for first responders who encounter a variety of environments as well as high stress situations during their day-to-day routines. Myo’s technology would enable an EMT to gather and catalog visual data and vitals quickly and efficiently through arm movements, backed with existing patient information.

“These are really re-humanizing technologies that are improving the doctor-patient interaction, liberating and not burdening them,” Shakil says.

Sean Gritters

Sean Gritters

    Sean Gritters graduated from Bucknell University in 2012 with a pre-medicine and philosophy degree. He currently works at a physical therapy clinic in Newton, MA and is interested in improving patient care through wearable technology and clinical practice innovations.

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