From TEDxToronto to the trenches, a glimpse of technology’s future

A thousand or so delegates, and a few lucky media folk, packed themselves into a comfortable, soporific theatre in downtown Toronto yesterday to hear a highly-curated list of speakers ranging from statistics experts to aboriginal leaders. Dubbed TEDxToronto, the independently-organized TED offshoot consistently surprised and challenged us.

But there was a half-hour period after lunch where technology was put into the context of world-changing; Dr. Steve Mann, the “human cyborg” and advocate of wearable technology since the late 1970’s, spoke about his experience with surveillance, harassment and the human condition. Outfitted with some form of a wearable computer since they were the size of garbage cans and had bunny ears — “back then we had to create our own wireless networks,” he joked — Dr. Mann spoke effusively on the public’s concessions for privacy, where it’s seemingly understood that as citizens we are fine being surveilled, but companies often prohibit us from filming them, even for our own safety.

Mann saw the potential for fusing human movement and technology from a very early age, and his company set the groundwork for what eventually became Google Glass.

After Dr. Mann’s talk was a presentation by University of Waterloo alumni Thalmic Labs. Their Myo band uses the electrical pulses in your muscles to control electronic devices like phones, tablet, televisions and, as part of yesterday’s demonstration, a Parrot AR.Drone. There was palpable awe from the audience, many of whom were innovators in their own fields.

Thalmic is expecting to ship the first commercially-available Myo early next year for $149, and pre-orders are being accepted now. The company recently hired two former BlackBerry executives to oversee operations and manufacturing, and in July closed $14.5 million in Series A funding to grow their team and move from Waterloo’s VeloCity Garage to their own space in Kitchener.

Gesture-based input is becoming a real thing with the recent launch of Leap Motion and Microsoft’s bundled Kinect inside its upcoming Xbox One console. Thalmic’s Myo promises to be even more precise than those by taking advantage of the very muscles humans use in micro-movements.