Nintendo enjoyed a near monopoly on the console video game business in the mid to late 80s, and numerous companies attempted to grab a piece of the action. This led to the release of several peripherals designed to work in tandem with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), from the motion-controlled U-Force (a tabletop peripheral that measured player hand movements) to the LaserScope, a voice activated headset that freed users from holding controllers.
With so many contraptions vying for shelf space, Mattel’s Power Glove was by far the most famous. The futuristic looking device slid over a player’s hand, and after inputting numeric codes specific to select games, let them perform actions in classic NES titles by moving their fingers and arms. Closing one’s fist and physically punching upwards in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, for example, instructed hero Little Mac to perform the same action in the video game, while rotating a hand into the two-o-clock position caused the character in Gun Smoke to shoot to the right. Such actions were made possible with optical fibers inside the device that transmitted light when bent from two internal ultrasonic speakers to three ultrasonic microphones attached to the television.
Despite an impressive marketing push that saw it appear in the cult movie, The Wizard, as well as a cameo of sorts in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the Power Glove was commercially panned. Not only were the controls difficult to adjust to (consumers preferred tapping A and B on the NES controller), but the glove was somewhat cumbersome to wear.
One could make the argument that like so many gaming gadgets released in the 80s and 90s, the Power Glove was ahead of its time. If anything, it helped pave the way for other motion control devices such as Sony’s original EyeToy and of course, Nintendo’s Wii Remote, none of which gave us the desired experience of pretending to be a Jedi from Star Wars (apologies to Microsoft’s Kinect Star Wars) or Tom Cruise in Minority Report, zipping through different screens with quick hand motions.
This will hopefully change with the arrival of the Myo from Thalmic Labs, which shares common ground with the Power Glove in that you’re free to issue commands to a computer or television screen by waving your arm around, except the Myo is a stylish one size fits all armband comprised of stainless steel sensor pads that fit just below your elbow, and the science behind it would’ve blown Mattel’s collective mind.
The 95-gram Myo (lighter than the average men’s wristwatch) operates via electromyography (EMG), impressive tech that measures electrical signals from your muscles. The armband theoretically detects what you’ll do before you physically perform the action, resulting in a near 1:1 ratio between hand movement or gesture and the on-screen result.
Think about standing in the kitchen cutting pieces of raw chicken while watching a video recipe on your laptop. Suppose you miss something and want to rewind. It’s difficult under normal circumstances because doing this means having to 1.) potentially contaminate the laptop keys, or 2.) washing your hands and then hitting the necessary keys, only to repeat the process later. Myo essentially eliminates both scenarios. Pointing an open palm towards the computer screen (think Force Push) pauses the video, and quickly flicking two fingers left starts the rewind; from there, performing a finger snap gesture resumes playback. Similarly, a professor can now flip between images projected on a wall, zoom in and highlight key areas of interest.
The practical uses for Myo are endless and thrilling since the device might play a pivotal role in video games, particularly shooters. Now you can fire a character’s weapon by contorting your fingers into a gun shape, pointing your hand at the TV screen and squeezing the invisible trigger. We saw hints of this with Microsoft’s Kinect, but it never worked as perfectly as we hoped.
Physically moving a character presents a challenge, one that developer Pascal Auberson may have solved with an iPhone, Myo and Oculus Rift. As you’ll see in the video, he explores a 3D environment using touchscreen controls on the iPhone held in his left hand, which frees up his right (the one with the Myo armband) to throw a grenade.
Naturally, gaming applications that work with Myo are in the early stages, but considering that Oculus and Sony’s own Project Morpheus headsets are on the horizon, this could be one of the final pieces to the virtual reality puzzle that eluded creators for more than two decades. The Myo removes an Xbox One controller or DualShock 4 from a person’s hands, allowing players to wave their arms to potentially return a Ping-Pong ball in a heated match, get a strike in bowling and shoot a jump shot on a basketball court; Slam City with Scotty Pippen, eat your heart out.
Now imagine you’re thousands of feet in the air on your first virtual skydive. There’s no threat of death, but it would be cool to reach over and pull an imaginary parachute cord, or join hands with a fellow skydiver through online play to link up and make formations.
From there, tour the ocean depths. Reach out and touch fish, or slowly move your arm to the right or left to push aside sea plants. Turn a key to a treasure chest and flip open the lid, then look down at your wrist to see how much oxygen you have left. We just laid the groundwork for a new Endless Ocean sequel for Wii U; you hear that, Nintendo?
The Star Wars lightsaber game of our dreams? Dual wielding with two Myo armbands? We’ll stop right here.
Providing Thalmic Labs delivers, Myo could help revolutionize the VR experience with Oculus Rift and/or Project Morpheus, though the device seems to work quite well on its own. The best part? Myo arrives in September and you can pre-order it right now.
In the meantime, rest in peace, Power Glove.