One of my favorite parts about a big trade show like CES 2015 is that you get to “discover” all sorts of new products and technology that you might not otherwise hear about. That is exactly the case with Reach Bionics, a company that is developing a new wearable controller technology that has a wide range of possible applications. Their technology takes advantage of vestigial muscle systems still present under the scalps of about 95% of the world’s population, according to the company. Our ancestors used these muscles to aim their ears in the direction of a sound; some of us can still control these muscles to “wiggle” our ears (though I regretted through childhood that I am not one.) Even if you can’t wiggle your ears, you can easily be trained to control these muscles.
The Reach Bionics device uses electromyography (EMG) to detect contractions in the different muscles; two on each side of your head. These contractions can trigger a signal that can be used as an input in the same way as a screen tap or a button press. Their headset is designed to transmit the signal wirelessly.
One big advantage of using these muscles is that the nerves that control them do not pass through the spinal cord. As a result, they remain functional even after injuries that may leave the rest of the body paralyzed. This makes the Reach Bionics ideal for helping quadriplegic subjects control a motorized wheelchair in order to regain mobility. The controller can be used for other applications that benefit from hands-free user inputs, such as giving commands to smartglasses or other wearable devices.
The product is still under development, and has received funding from the National Science Foundation. The company has not published any estimated dates for delivery.