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

Eric Geusz: Apple engineer by day, spaceship designer by night

An Apple software engineer by day, artist Eric Geusz spends his nights drawing everyday household objects as amazing, science fiction-style spaceships. Check out the impressive results.
Movies & TV

The best movies streaming on Hulu right now (August 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.
Movies & TV

Here are the best shows on Netflix right now (August 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Who needs sunshine? Stay inside and watch the best movies on Netflix instead

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Nordstrom Anniversary sale: Best deals on hair tools, beauty gadgets, and more

Nordstrom's massive Anniversary Sale is finally here. We've picked out a few of our favorite hair styling tools and beauty gadgets.

Amazon Prime Day deals are ending, but you can still get great bargains

Prime Day 2019 has come to an end for Amazon, but that doesn't mean the deals have ended. Amazon will continue to have sales through Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the way through Prime Day 2020.

How accurate are fitness trackers and does it matter? We asked an expert

You can get all kinds of different fitness wearables nowadays, from full blown smartwatches to simple fitness trackers, but just how accurate are they? We dug into the research and asked an expert to find out.

Walk, run, stretch, eat right, relax with these handy iPhone fitness apps

Working out and getting yourself in shape isn't easy, but it's easier with the right set of apps. These best iPhone fitness apps will help you to track your calories, monitor your sleep, and achieve your fitness goals.
Health & Fitness

Materials in new Nike Joyride running shoes put environmentalists on alert

Nike Joyride is a new type of cushioning designed for use in running shoes, but its reliance on microplastics is already causing some to question its long-term impact on the environment.
Health & Fitness

Specialized’s new road ebike will cure your range anxiety for good

Specialized's new road ebike weigh just 26.8 pounds, offers pedal assist speeds of up to 28 miles per hour, and has a range of as far as 120 miles between recharges, virtually eliminating range anxiety altogether.

Save time, eat well, and get healthy with the best meal-planning apps

Meal-planning apps help make cooking, shopping for ingredients, and finding the right recipes easy -- especially if you want to save time or lose weight. Take a look at the best meal-planning apps to see how they can help.

Here are 8 GoPro tips to get the most out of your action cam

There's more to your GoPro camera than just mounting it to your skateboard. Whether it's finding the best accessories or understanding the settings more thoroughly, learn to shoot video like a pro with these simple GoPro tips and tricks.

Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 4 impressions: All the fitness tracker you need

The Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 4 is one of the best value sport-tech products available, and one of the only fitness bands you should consider buying. It costs a lot less than similar wearables from the big-names, but does just as much.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene editing to take on inherited blindness in U.S. study

A new study in the United States will use CRISPR gene-editing technology to attempt to treat LCA, a retinal condition that is one cause of inherited blindness. Here's what you need to know.