Facebook and Oculus exec leaving to work on wearable MRI

360 degree mri scan video 1500x1001
Conventional MRI machines could be replaced by wearable devices Liz West / Flickr (Creative Commons)
A top Silicon Valley engineer and executive is leaving Oculus and Facebook later this year to work on life-saving health technologies. Oculus and Facebook Executive Director of Engineering Mary Lou Jepsen will be joining startup Open Water to work with brain waves, according to Xconomy.

Jepsen, whose background and resume could leave most people gasping, is one of tech’s true, long-haul, entrepreneurial visionaries. With the chops to back up her words, if Jepsen says she’s going to do something, no matter what it is, people pay attention.

And now Mary Lou Jepsen has set her sights on creating a wearable MRI.

Dramatically improving MRI technology isn’t a new thought for Jepsen. “It’s such a big idea, it’s what I wanted to do for a decade. It’s why I went to MIT [Media Lab]. It’s why I went to Google. It turned out that Google really needed me to do some other stuff that was way more important to Google at the time. I’ve been incubating this since 2005 … and I clearly see how to do it and how to realize it in a few short years.”

If you’ve ever had an MRI, you know you have to go to a special site where the huge, multi-million dollar machine is kept under special conditions. Typically, you lie back on a narrow pad and you’re pulled into a large, tight tube. That’s the easy part. While the MRI does its thing, the noises are just obnoxious enough to keep you from hyperventilating.

Jepsen, who was diagnosed with brain cancer and had a tumor removed in 1995, has likely had her share of MRI scans. Perhaps it was just after a scan that Jepsen’s had her initial idea of creating a smaller, wearable version that would be much less bothersome and expensive, but without compromise in quality and usefulness.

As she was pondering the project for just over a decade, Jepsen had to wait for pieces to fall into place. Her project, she says, is on “the hairy edge of what physics can do.” It depends on the latest “in advances in everything from physics to optoelectronics to consumer electronics to big data and A.I. that can be combined to shrink the size, improve the functionality, and lower the cost of MRI.”

One question is, who would make the parts? The current plateau in smartphone and tablet sales frees up manufacturing capacity. Jepsen says, “What I see are the subcomponent makers being really hungry for what the new, new thing is. My big bet is we can use that manufacturing infrastructure to create the functionality of a $5 million MRI machine in a consumer electronics price-point wearable. And the implications of that are so big.”

One whole category of implications was inspired by the work of Jack Gallant at U.C. Berkeley. Gallant’s group has amassed a huge library of images of what people’s brain scans show when they look at a wide variety of images. To find out they have to load people into traditional MRI machines and scan their brains while they watch films. In Jepsen’s mind, the potential unlocked by knowing what brain waves look like when someone is looking at a particular image is almost unlimited.

Potential applications of that next huge technological step include helping stroke victims communicate, allowing creative people to do brain dumps directly to computers to capture their imaginations, and even communicating with animals. “So little is known,” Jepsen said. “Dolphins are supposed to be really smart — maybe we can collaborate with them.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

Stranger Things season 3 is coming! Here’s everything we know so far

With a sophomore season as strong as its first, Stranger Things is now moving on to season 3. Here's everything we've learned so far about the Netflix series' upcoming third season, premiering in July 2019.
Movies & TV

These are the best movies on Hulu right now (March 2019)

From dramas to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Business

4 women innovators who are using tech to help others live better lives

Meet four women leaders who are not only at the forefront of technology today, but also using tech — from robotics and medicine to food and undergarments — to help others.
Wearables

Fitbit Versa Lite versus Fitbit Versa: How are they different?

Fitbit took the best of its popular Versa smartwatch and removed some elements to create the new Versa Lite, an even more affordable entry-level smartwatch. How does the Versa Lite differ from the original Versa? Read on to find out.
Health & Fitness

AncestryDNA price drop makes it more affordable to discover your family origins

In step with St. Patrick's Day's emphasis on roots, AncestryDNA cut its price for a DNA-based ancestry search by $40. Send in a saliva sample to receive an estimated ethnicity breakdown, locations of origin, and possible living relatives.
Deals

Bowflex’s spring sale has limited-time deals on treadmills, home gyms, and more

Gyms membership are expensive which is home gyms are a great alternative. When it comes to home gyms, Bowflex designs great fitness training equipment for your home so you can get the full gym experience. Right now Bowflex is offering huge…
Deals

This Bowflex promo code will save you up to $1,000 on training equipment

The Bowflex HVT machine is designed to fit anyone's needs. Whether you're getting back into shape or you train every day, Bowflex's HVT, which stands for hybrid velocity training, combines both cardio and working out in one machine. Now you…
Gaming

Sony could use a robot to turn your PlayStation into a fitness machine

Sony submitted a patent application for a robotic device equipped with a camera to assist in your workout. The images included suggest that the device will work with your PlayStation console.
Deals

Stay fit and save cash with our top 10 affordable Fitbit alternatives

As much as we love Fitbits, they're rather expensive. If all you want is a simple activity tracker, however, then check out these great cheap Fitbit alternatives. With offerings from brands like Garmin, you don't need to pay full price.
Outdoors

Yamaha’s Wabash ebike takes on gravel, single track, and more

The Wabash gravel ebike from Yamaha gives riders a versatile and powerful option for riding trails, pavement, mud, sand, dirt, and more, with plenty of range and power for all-day adventures.
Mobile

Even older Apple Watches could be effective at spotting heart conditions

The Apple Watch Series 4 is known for detecting heart conditions like atrial fibrillation thanks to having an electrocardiograph feature. It turns out that older Apple Watches could be effective at tracking AFib, too.
Health & Fitness

Under Armour HOVR is more than a running shoe, it’s a fitness tracker

Under Armour HOVR running shoes bring more to the table than just a comfortable fit. With UA's Record Sensor technology, you can track distance, duration, and even the path you take as you run.
Outdoors

Trek’s new bike helmet is 48 times safer than the one you’re wearing

Trek and Bontrager have taken the wraps off of a new cycling helmet that uses WaveCel technology to dramatically reduce head injuries by dispersing the impact in a way that is 48 times safer than current helmets.