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Tech wearables holiday gift roundup: U of T startups take on smart watches, biometrics and more

Bionym, Whirlscape among the companies with products already on the market

The Minuum keyboard, Muse headband and Nymi wristband)

The holidays are upon us and as savvy shoppers search for gift ideas with a personal touch, wearable gadgets from U of T-developed companies are pret-a-porter for the fashionable tech lover on your list.

Brain-sensing headgear? Check. Wristbands that let you make secure mobile payments? Check. This season, startups from U of T alumni and accelerators are offering accessories to help improve your basketball game, weightlifting, smartwatch typing, hands-free video game playing and more. (Read more about entrepreneurship at U of T)

Below are just a few of the best wearable tech gifts from companies growing in the U of T community.

The Nymi from Bionym
This sleek, biometric wristband enables users to seamlessly unlock devices, remember passwords and – in a pilot with RBC in early 2015 – even make mobile payments. And it does it securely, by recognizing your heart's unique signature. nymi wristband displayed on a hand

“We’re at the forefront of a revolution in identity-based interactions with devices and services,” says Karl Martin, engineering alumnus and CEO of Bionym. “Our momentum continues to grow with the support of our investors and strategic partners.”

The company, which recently announced a round of $14 million in investment, grew from U of T research and developed through several university entrepreneurship supports. It’s now making headlines in the Washington Post, Mashable, Daily Mail and NBC. 

You can reserve the Nymi for an introductory price of $79 on pre-orders before December 31. And ‘Nymi Band Discovery Kits,’ are also available, perfect for developers keen to create applications for a much buzzed-about piece of tech soon to hit the market.

The Muse from InteraXonillustration of muse headband
This brain fitness tool comes in the form of a headband that helps users do more with their mind. Muse detects brain signals during guided exercises and provides feedback that trains a user’s brain to improve stress response, emotional state, feelings of self-control and more. 

InteraXon co-founder Ariel Garten studied at U of T and researched hippocampal neurogenesis at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre. She’s also a psychotherapist and fashion designer, which explains the mix of style and science the Muse offers for $299 along with a 60-day guarantee, the Muse Calm app, and a basic software developer’s kit.

Minuum from Whirlscape
It may not be a piece of wearable tech itself but this software makes smartwatches (see below) even smarter.

Minuum’s tiny, highly predictive keyboard offers accurate typing even when users miss every letter.

minuum keyboard displayed on a smartwatch
The company, developed with help from U of T accelerators UTEST and Creative Destruction Lab, blasted past its IndieGoGo goal by 873 per cent and has been producing minuscule keyboards for sloppy typers on a variety of devices ever since. 
“While we hoped others would appreciate our project, we didn’t anticipate the level of support, enthusiasm and excitement that Minuum would generate around the world,” said Will Walmsley, CEO of Whirlscape.

The Minuum is available for devices running on iOS and Android and the company says it's “the first keyboard to enable typing on Android Wear devices, including the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live,” among other smartwatches.

Minuum for iOS and Android costs $3.99. Consider it a virtual stocking stuffer.

SWISH by Onyx Motion image of swish on android wear smartwatch
This free Android-wear smartphone app is made for basketball enthusiasts looking to track and improve their shot. SWISH records the shot and offers tips on focus, technique and more, with information sourced from real coaches. 

Engineering alumni Vivek Kesarwani and Marissa Wu co-founded Onyx Motion as part of The Next 36, the entrepreneurship development program co-founded by Ajay Agrawal, Peter Munk Professor of Entrepreneurship and academic director at U of T's Creative Destruction Lab. Onyx Motion has just been named one of the newest UTEST companiesThe free app is available for download in the Google Play store.

push band with custom varsity blues strapThis wearable fitness tracker was developed for professional athletes, coaches and anyone else who wants to measure and improve their workout in a serious way. Push tracks reps, explosive strength, force, velocity and other metrics key to fitness.

Co-founder Mike Lovas indicates there's been interest from the NHL, NFL, pro soccer and more. Push offers a variety of products for athletes and coaches but their basic armband starts at $189.

Custom Varsity Blues logo bands are available for $45. This company developed with help from U of T’s Creative Destruction Lab.

“The Myo armband lets you use the electrical activity in your muscles to wirelessly control your computer, phone and other favorite digital technologies,” reads Thalmic Labs’ website. “With the wave of your hand, it will transform how you interact with your digital world.”

Thalmic Labs developed the Myo in part through the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab accelerator. (Read more about Thalmic Labs at U of T)

Thalmic quickly leveraged the Creative Destruction Lab and raised the majority of their seed capital from the Lab's G7 (coaching and investor group) including some of Canada's leading entrepreneurs,”  said Agrawal.

You can pre-order the Myo for $199.

The smart glove from U of T’s BreqLabs is poised to get gamers more immersed in their virtual worlds – and serve as a wearable mouse for users with mobility challenges such as hand tremors.

Martin Labrecque, an engineering PhD alumnus, is developing the product with support from U of T’s Impact Centre. In the video below, he demonstrates the exoglove in tandem with the Occulus Rift virtual reality headset and discusses other possible applications.

Player Tracking System
The freshest U of T-developed tech wearable application is one that doesn’t really exist yet – even though the concept from U of T Mississauga students just nabbed top prize in the recent SportsHack competition sponsored by IBM and We Are Wearables. image of heat map on ice rink

The Player Tracking System app tracks players on the field using smartwatches, displaying their data through a heat map. Its demo was built to reflect a soccer pitch but could be adapted for a variety of fields, arenas and courts. (Read more about the app)

“We could sell the data to fans who could see it in real time, to coaches to correct the players, to players so they can see how they are personally performing, or even to broadcasters,” said Higor Silva, a Brazilian student on exchange at U of T Mississauga as part of the Science Without Borders program.   

Read more about entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto.