We’re used to the big tech firms rolling out multifunction devices to make our lives better. It’s surprising to find out that a lot of those neat new features that are rolled out with the next tablet or smartphone don’t come from within the belly of a massive corporate entity. They come from new innovators who chase an interesting idea until it turns into a usable piece of tech. Across the country, there numerous smart, agile new Canadian tech companies who are bringing exciting new technologies to the public. In the fields of wearable and smart home technology, here are 4 companies that got their start in Ontario, making big waves while flying the maple leaf flag.
1. Thalmic Labs, makers of Myo
Thalmic Labs is based in the heart of Ontario’s tech sector, Waterloo. Their wearable device Myo allows a presenter to control their presentation with a wave of their hand. The device is a Bluetooth band that sits around the user’s forearm, and it translates the muscle contractions and arm movement into digital commands. As an example, make a fist and you are now controlling a pointer, directing it across the screen with each move of your arm. Myo also has haptic response to give the user physical feedback in response to each action. It’s the next step in gesture control that moves past the limitations of camera-based motion control solutions like the Microsoft Kinect. The Myo has a range of up to 30 metres between the device and the PC or Mac it is synced with. The controls are currently focused on presentation software like Powerpoint, Keynote and Prezi, but the open availability of software developer kits will lead to a future full of new uses for the armband. From surgeons moving medical images without compromising the cleanliness of the hands, to superstar DJs controlling their own light show to flash the lights when they drop the bass, there are an almost unlimited number of applications for the Myo. Because of this, Thalmic Labs has attracted big support from tech industry investors like Alex Ohanian, one of Reddit’s co-founders. Very big things are expected.
Our overview of the Myo can be found here on the Plug-In blog.
2. Interaxon, makers of Muse
Having trouble calming your restless mind? The folks at Interaxon want to help. The eclectic Toronto Company may be the only tech innovator in Canada to have an anthropologist on staff. Interaxon focuses on brain-sensing technology and applying that technology to interesting outcomes. They used their tech to allow people during the 2010 Winter Olympics to use the power of their mind to change the lights on the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and the Parliament buildings. They are also the people who brought the mind-controlled beer tap into existence.
The mind reels at the possibilities. They’re now turned their research into a consumer product named Muse, the brain sensing headband. Muse passively tracks your brain activity and gives you a better sense of how calm and focused you are while you meditate. The mobile app takes the brain activity information and responds with the sound of blowing wind. The calmer the wind, the more serene your thoughts are. Lose your focus and start thinking about that unfinished argument, and the wind begins to blow more loudly. After your meditation session is done, the app compiles the statistics of your session and tracks them against previous ones. The overall goal is to become better at focusing your mind and maintaining a sense of calm when life gets stressful. For the fans of meditation looking to improve their Zen, Muse is the high-tech solution. For an amusing take on the device, Popular comedian Debora DiGiovani took a pair for a test run for our “What the heck is wearable tech part 1: Muse” article. We’ve also got a Q&A about how Muse works for the curious.
3. Ecobee, the makers of the Ecobee3
Another Torontonian mover and shaker, Ecobee, wants to make your life more comfortable and energy efficient. The company was formed in 2007 by engineer Stuart Lombard. What started as a quest to lower his energy bills and lessen his carbon footprint has turned into a customizable smart WiFi thermostat. What sets their Ecobee3 Smart WiFi thermostat apart from the competitors is the addition of up to 32 remote sensors. Instead of measuring temperature from one spot in your house, the Ecobee3 system tracks room usage and temperature patterns to provide efficient home heating and cooling. It’s also remotely controllable via app. With a quick tap on your smartphone, you can adjust your home thermostat from anywhere on the globe. Extending your vacation and want to keep your heat back home turned low? The Ecobee3 makes that possible. Personally, I love the idea of ordering a perfectly toasty bedroom on a cold winter’s night. With the promise of saving up to 23% of your energy bill by smartly controlling the temperature, Ecobee hopes to become an essential part of your smart home set-up.
4.Blacksumac, the creators of Piper
The story behind the Piper Wireless Security System is a great example of the speed of the tech world. Blacksumac was a small tech company based in Ottawa. Their goal was to make an easy to install and use home security system, with no monthly fee and the ability to monitor your home from any location. Last year, they looked to the online world to fund their initial Piper Home Security line, raising 3 times their target amount. After a strong launch the following January, Blacksumac was purchased by home security and automation industry leader iControl Networks. The Piper system can send cellular alerts in addition to email notifications, alerting you to any unexpected motion or sound in your home. The two way microphone allows you to remotely talk to family members near the Piper device. And the product line has expanded to include other home automation features like smart switches to remotely control lights and appliances, making the Piper system a versatile solution provider. Check out our “Piper Home Security Products How do they Measure up?” article for a hands on look.
That’s just a small sample of the new wave of Canadian innovators who are exploring the uses and possibilities in wearable tech and smart home technologies. Each new piece of hardware pushes the boundaries of what we think is possible. New connections and applications spring up organically as these emerging technologies interact with each other and the users. And we’re just getting started. The new uses will come from regular people like you and me as we bring neat new pieces of tech into our daily interactions.