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Major Takeaways:

  • The Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has unveiled what it calls a modular prosthetic arm that uses two Myo armbands developed by Thalmic Labs
    • The Myo armband translates electrical signals emitted by moving muscles into computer commands.
    • The advanced prosthetic limb using the Myo armband was developed by Johns Hopkins with $120 million in funding from the US military
  • Thalmic Labs opened up its technology to developers when it launched its Myo armband in 2013, leading to many applications beyond healthcare
    • Other applications for the Myo armband include gaming, remotely flying drones and controlling vehicles, and more
  • Thalmic Labs employs around 100 employees

From the article at The Record:

KITCHENER — Technology developed by Kitchener startup Thalmic Labs has been used to help develop an advanced prosthetic limb controlled by the user’s thoughts.

The Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has unveiled what it calls a modular prosthetic arm that uses two Myo armbands developed by Thalmic. The Myo armband translates electrical signals emitted by moving muscles into computer commands.

“It has been interesting to see how the whole thing evolved by itself, outside of our offices,” said Stephen Lake, Thalmic’s chief executive officer and co-founder.

The startup employs almost 100 people in offices at 24 Charles St. W. in downtown Kitchener.

The advanced prosthetic limb using the Myo armband was developed by Johns Hopkins with $120 million in funding from the U.S. military.

In 2006, cancer was detected in Johnny Metheny’s left arm. In 2008, his arm was amputated above the elbow and he has struggled with different prosthetic limbs ever since. The Myo armband led to a breakthrough in prosthetics that allows Metheny to manipulate the mechanical hand at the end of his artificial arm.

Metheny, 60, controls his arm by thinking about it. The thoughts move the muscles, and the muscles emit electrical signals. Those signals are processed by the Myo technology and the artificial limb moves. Metheny says the technology has given him a second chance at life.

The work at Johns Hopkins is a big step forward in integrating prosthetics with the Myo technology, Lake said.

Lake said the underlying technology in the Myo, electromyography or EMG, was used in prosthetics years ago. But earlier versions of the technology required surgeons to implant electrodes inside the body, or spread a special gel on the skin that conducts electricity.

While the Myo eliminated the need for electrodes and special gels, surgeons did alter the muscles, nerves and tendons in Metheny’s upper arm to better accommodate the device.

“And so it has kind of come full circle in a sense that now they are able to take a computer technology that we built and apply it to prosthetics,” Lake said.

Thalmic is named after the part of the brain that controls sensory information and signal relays for muscle movements.

When Thalmic launched the Myo armband in 2013, it shared the technology with developers. This open approach allows developers around the world to create new applications for the technology, which in turn drives demand for the product.

“Which has allowed the armband to go in thousands of distinct and very different use cases and applications,” Lake said. “Many, many more than we could have built ourselves.”

The armband is used to play video games, control images projected during presentations, fly drones and control remotely operated vehicles. DJs use it to control music and lights during shows.

The armband can be linked to smartphones, turning them into hands-free devices that can be used while driving. Surgeons can use Myo to move lights and other equipment during operations without touching any surface.

Lake said it is very satisfying to see how Johns Hopkins used the technology to create an advanced prosthetic that can pick up balls, shake hands and hold small objects.

“Myo has made it much, much more sensitive,” Lake said, “and much more controllable.”