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Thalmic Labs nabs $14.5M for wearable device that unleashes your inner Jedi

Thalmic Labs has built technology that gives regular people super powers– or at least makes them feel that way.

The startup has secured $14.5 million of venture capital to accelerate development of MYO- an armband that wirelessly controls your computer, phone, and other digital devices. The wearable gesture control device picks up on electrical activity in your muscles and uses Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy to communicate with paired devices. The first version of the product recognizes around 20 gestures. It attracted over 30,000 pre-orders from 138 countries, bringing in more than $4 million for manufacturing.

“There is a trend towards more tightly integrating technology with who we are as people,” said founder Stephen Lake in an interview with VentureBeat. “How can you make technology an extension of yourself? By making it something that is naturally integrated with you all the time. Our hands have evolved over millions of years to have incredible control and manipulate things. Now we are connecting natural sets of actions to the digital world. Suddenly, you have the power of the entire internet at your fingertips.”

Wearable computing is one of the hottest tech trends right now. The quantified self-movement has taken off and with it a slew of connected devices for your body, including FitBit and the Pebble smartwatch which recently raised $15 million from Charles River Ventures (after raising more than $10 million on Kickstarter). Along with consumer excitement comes investor excitement. This round was led by Spark Capital and Intel Capital and will help the company meet high-demand for MYO, and support growth and product development. Thalmic Labs hopes to roll out more sophisticated versions of MYO and build products on top of it.

Its greatest competitors is Leap Motion’s controller– a small rectangular device that lets user control their computer in “three dimensions” using their hand and finger movements. Leap has raised $44 million to date from big name investors and signed deals with Asus and Best Buy to support mainstream distorbutrion. MYO is Leap Motion’s first real competitor, and Lake said that MYO’s unique muscular sensing technology makes it more accurate and easy-to-use than other versions that use cameras. Both devices aim to be as discrete as possible so the users forgets they are wearing it, and can actually feel like  Jedi.

Lake and his cofounders Aaron Grant and Matthew Bailey are just 23 and 24 years old. They studied mechatronics at the University of Waterloo in Canada and are participating in Y Combinator’s winter 2013 class. Thalmic Labs is based in Kitchener, Ontario. MYO should ship in early 2014 and costs $149.

Photo Credit: Chitra Rakesh/VentureBeat

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