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Thalmic Labs CEO hints at what the start-up is building with money from Amazon's Alexa fund

  • Amazon's Alexa fund invested in Thalmic Labs' US series B last fall.
  • The startup invented the underlying sensor technology that powers Myo, a gesture control armband.
  • Thalmic CEO Stephen Lake says the product it's building with funding from Amazon will not be a Myo 2.0 or even use the exact same gesture sensor technology.
Thalmic Labs founders left to right Matthew Bailey, Aaron Grant and Stephen Lake.
Source: Thalmic Labs
Thalmic Labs founders left to right Matthew Bailey, Aaron Grant and Stephen Lake.

Start-up Thalmic Labs, which received venture funding from Amazon and Intel last year, is working on a wearable device that "will change the way people interact with technology," co-founder and CEO Stephen Lake told CNBC.

"At a really high level what we've been thinking about is what do our interactions as humans with the digital world," Lake said. "What does that look like 5 to 10 years from now?"

Thalmic, based in Waterloo, Ontario, is known for innovating in the area of human-computer interaction. The startup invented the underlying sensor technology that powers Myo, a gesture control armband that was initially envisioned to serve a function similar to the computer keyboard (or mouse) but in the VR environment. The device uses electromyography (EMG), a sensor technology that is typically used in the medical world to pick up electrical impulses from muscles.

Diagram of how Myo gesture control works
Source: Thalmic Labs
Diagram of how Myo gesture control works

In September 2016, Thalmic announced a $120 million funding round led by Amazon, Intel and Fidelity Investments Canada. Amazon's investment came from its Alexa Fund, which provides $100 million in venture capital for voice technology innovation.

"All of that funding is going into new product development," said Lake. "Certainly there have been a lot of new applications of Alexa over the past year in different areas and so that's something we spend time thinking about," he said.

Lake says the product will not be a Myo 2.0 or use the exact same gesture sensor technology. "We're continuing down the path of this relationship between humans and technology," said Lake, "making the interactions with the technology around us more seamless and immediate."

Thalmic team members in the manufacturing space.
Source: Thalmic Labs
Thalmic team members in the manufacturing space.

The product won't look like the Apple Watch or fitness trackers like Fitbit, but will instead be a completely new interface that will continue the trend towards wearables replacing phones, he said.

"Phones aren't going away tomorrow, this isn't a 2017 or even 2018 thing," said Lake. "I do think we're going to see a huge evolution of these interfaces," said Lake.

In many ways, the new generation of smart home devices like Amazon Alexa have already displaced the phone at home, he said.

"Whether it's Google Home or Alexa these devices they've almost displaced the phone in their own unique use cases. No longer if you're cooking something in your kitchen do you need to take out your phone to set a timer, when you can talk to Alexa and say 'Hey set me a timer for 10 minutes or find me a recipe for this thing I'm cooking'," said Lake.

Lake also says that his company's approach is different from the typical hardware startup.

Thalmic team members working in the office.
Source: Thalmic Labs
Thalmic team members working in the office.

"With most consumer electronics, or device, or widget companies, they are going around and saying what are all of the parts and chips and technologies that I can buy today and how do I package them into a product?" said Lake.

"We start from a different place. With Myo we started with this problem of trying to solve what does the equivalent to the keyboard look like after we have all of these wearable displays and goggles in the future, and then we kind of worked backwards to say what are the technologies we have to invent to make that possible," he said.

Amazon is not known to be experimenting with wearables itself, although it is looking into health tech opportunities, including hardware, CNBC recently learned. Intel, meanwhile, recently disbanded the group that focused on fitness wearables and instead is turning its attention toward augmented reality, CNBC reported.