Finn Kuusisto and Ron Stewart Finn Kuusisto and Ron Stewart

Morgridge alum awarded for “FANTM” limb virtual technology

The Morgridge Institute for Research congratulates former Morgridge Postdoctoral Fellow Finn Kuusisto for his recent 2nd place win at the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest for the proposal of “FANTM.” 

Virtual and augmented reality are not new innovations in the tech world, but their immersive applications — especially in health and biomedicine — have increased in popularity over the past couple of years. At the very least, these technologies can enhance learning tools and improve patient quality of life.

Most users interact with this kind of technology with headsets and controllers — however, mass adoption has been heavily bounded by the clunky nature of these devices and their limited functionality for those living with a disability. Likewise, camera accuracy deteriorates in certain lighting and with movements that exceed the frame. 

Kuusisto and co-founder Ezra Boley believe that FANTM, which engages in human-computer integration, has the potential to resolve some of these common issues.

“What we’re trying to build is a wearable device, optimally a wristband, that uses embedded sensors to detect electrical activity in the muscles of your wrist and then use advanced machine learning to translate that activity directly into your hand pose,” says Kuusisto. “The idea is you now effectively have a digital twin of the hands that you could use to grasp or move objects in VR.”

“It gives you the ability to interact with computers without having to touch them, which I think is a pretty powerful idea when applied across the board.”

Ezra Boley

Their progress so far has been accomplished with the connection of electromyography and an open-sourced platform that essentially acts as a data acquisition middleman. The conceit of this technology’s name stems from the inspiration of a “phantom” limb and the idea of detection that can take place without the use of a glove or camera. 

“It gives you the ability to interact with computers without having to touch them, which I think is a pretty powerful idea when applied across the board,” says Boley.

FANTM also has many realistic narratives outside of the virtual reality realm. In the future, a handheld TV remote could be replaced by the recognition of swipes and pinches – much like how we already utilize our smartphones today. Another example would be in the context of prosthetics and the intuition movements that could come from that.

Kuusisto received his Ph.D. in Computer Science at UW–Madison and completed postdoctoral research in the Jamie Thomson Lab and the Stewart Computational Biology Group at Morgridge. He met Ezra Boley, who has a B.S. in Computer Science Computer Engineering, through participating in the student organization known as Badgerloop. Together, they worked in tandem on the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition before becoming co-founders of FANTM. 

The pair began in the exploration phase which included many milestones; notably the success of their feasibility study. The results proved they could accomplish discrete gesture recognitions and led them to submit development grants. 

Since 2004, the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest has connected prospective entrepreneurs with plentiful resources intended to help them hit the ground running and gain some beneficial exposure. With support from this award, FANTM is currently in its prototype phase and will continue to explore the possibilities of human-computer integration that are to come.