Imagine manipulating a smart TV with gestures similar to how people use handheld devices. A swipe and a drag here, a little pinch there and just like that, a show on Netflix starts – no screen to touch, no buttons to press, a minimal amount of effort.
It may seem futuristic, and it is, but it’s one of many long-term goals for Madison-based Fantm, a startup developing non-invasive wearable technology to interact and control other electronic devices.
Fantm founders Ezra Boley and Finn Kuusisto are captivated by what’s possible with electromyography or EMG, which is the recording of electrical activity produced by muscle tissue. This science is at the core of Fantm’s wearable device technology.
Despite EMG’s alluring capabilities, the founders discovered a major roadblock – Facebook purchased much of the advanced intellectual property around EMG technology within the past two years. Bear in mind, EMG dates back to the 1800s, and within the past century has been used in medical applications like diagnosing neuromuscular disorders.
Today’s researchers are using EMG technology to control robotic prosthetic arms. Meanwhile, futurists see EMG’s potential to include manipulating exoskeletons for manufacturing and the military, or tele-operating a robotic surgeon in a combat zone while on U.S. soil.
So, in a “screw that” moment, Boley and Kuusisto decided to take on Facebook and develop their own EMG software and hardware, and they’re building an open-source platform that allows researchers and hobbyists to leverage Fantm’s technology to develop their own EMG control systems too.
“We didn’t just want to let Facebook control the research and development around this kind of technology,” Kuusisto said.
Although there are EMG sensors on the market, medical-grade sensors cost tens of thousands of dollars while hobbyist-grade sensors lack software support, Kuusisto said.
Fantm is launching its first product called “DEVLPR,” an Arduino shield that enables people to read EMG and translate signals into gesture-based controls. The startup will operate its first large manufacturing run of DEVLPR as a Kickstarter campaign in the third quarter of 2021, Kuusisto said.
“The goal is to break technology and IP barriers and make it far easier for anyone interested in EMG controls to get started,” Kuusisto said. “That’s our vision.”