Jul 10, 2014

Muscling Up

posted by Bryon Moyer

We’ve seen gesture recognition before, and the two major modes, if you will, are using cameras (either 2- or 3-D) to “see” and interpret gestures and using inertial sensors to detect hand motion and infer gestures.

Thalmic is about to launch its own gesture control armband, but they rely on a completely different source of information for detecting gestures: muscle movements. Or, more accurately, the electrical signals that govern muscle movement.

The measurement technique is called “electromyography” (EMG), and the device they’re building is called the Myo. While it does contain an inertial sensor, they say that they can detect much more subtle gestures by reading the muscles and cross-referencing that information with that of the IMU, making outsized gesturing less necessary. They claim that the EMG readings are impervious to sweat, dryness, heat, hair, and differences in muscle tone.

Each device contains 8 EMG sensors plus an IMU, some computing capability, and Bluetooth LE. The signals are processed in the armband; the output is an event representing a classified gesture. All of the usable gestures are pre-defined; they’re keeping the number of gestures to a small number.

While the gestures are fixed, their meanings aren’t. Application developers can use their SDK to assign specific semantics for the gestures within their applications. It’s even possible to fuse the events from two different armbands (one on each arm) for more complex two-handed gesturing.

I talked to them in May at the Embedded Vision Summit (ironic); at that time they had alpha samples out for developers. They recently announced the final design, slimming down and changing the look as compared to the alpha armband. In the process, they had to redo some of the electronics to accommodate the shape – and, according to their blog, they’ve improved the electrical performance in the process. Final devices are now expected to ship in September.



This doesn’t strike me as something you’d just wear around; it’s still pretty bulky as an accessory. But using it specifically as an input device for things like gaming is an interesting twist. It will also be interesting to see what new roles EMG may provide in future devices.

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Jul 03, 2014

A New IoT Platform: RuBAN

posted by Bryon Moyer

Yet another Internet of Things (IoT) “platform” was announced recently: the RuBAN platform by Davra Networks. I enclosed the term in quotes not to question specifically whether this is a platform, but just as a reminder that the term “platform” means little – or perhaps it means too much, since there are many of them, and they’re all different in function and scope.

RuBAN targets not the Consumer IoT (CIoT), nor does it address the manufacturing side of IIoT. They do target Things that haven’t been connected before, relying on whatever instrumentation or data generation is already there (in other words, they don’t provide the sensors) – consistent with the brownfield approach we discussed the other day.

Examples of the applications on which they’re focusing are fleet management, mass transit ticketing and maintenance, oil/gas/mining, and security. The common denominators here are far-flung, distributed, and, often, mobile. As such, the cellular network plays an important part, much as we saw with Jasper the other day.

Davra’s direct customers will not be the owners of these networks, but rather the VARs building the networks and services. It’s a development environment intended for rapid deployment. The idea is to have a high-level way to quickly assemble rules, establish reporting, and devise alerts using point-and-click/drag-and-drop methodologies rather than detailed programming.

It’s an all-software solution, with gateways providing the key functionality. The gateways implement a “fog” function, executing rules and filtering data into the cloud. Each vehicle in a fleet, for example, may have a single gateway that channels location information (especially when establishing a geo-fence) or engine and other vehicle performance data for transmission into the cloud, where big-data functions can take over.

You can read more in their announcement, but, as with most platforms, a conversation will probably be needed to get the nitty-gritty details.

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Jul 01, 2014

Wireless Power Progress: Efficiency and Distance

posted by Bryon Moyer

We met PowerByProxi recently when discussing wireless battery charging options. Well, they’ve recently announced what they claim to be a couple of milestones both in distance and charging power.

The distance metric has them able to charge in the “z” direction up to 30 mm away. That’s 3 cm; roughly an inch and a half. Which doesn’t actually seem that far, but, critically, since they can penetrate various construction materials, this means they can go through counters and tables (much as we discussed in the WiTricity case).

More significantly, they’ve upped their charging power to what they say is an industry-leading 7.5 W. Those of you who know phone power systems in detail may note that, at least as PowerByProxi tells it, the power management ICs (PMICs) throttle wireless charging power to 3.5 or 5 W to avoid overheating. (No such limit is placed on wired charging.)

Given that fact, you might wonder how PowerByProxi tested this out (short of designing their own PMIC): they did it by adding a dummy load to the phone to pull extra power. Their goal is that, by demonstrating 7.5-W charging (per receiver, or device being charged), future PMICs can eliminate the limit, allowing faster charging.

They also announced a “personal charger” in the shape of a bowl. This was a prototype demonstrating that phones or wearable gadgetry could be simply dropped into the bowl, without any careful positioning, and they would be properly charged.

They’re targeting this for the new Qi v1.2 protocol, which uses the lower-frequency 200 kHz range, even though PowerByProxi makes charging systems at other frequencies (they’re not firmly wedded to one format).

You can read more about their developments in their announcement.

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