The engineering exec for Facebook and Oculus VR is swapping gaming headsets for brain reading wearables. Mary Lou Jepsen's new startup Open Water wants to help doctors detect cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's with hi-res, affordable, wearable MRI machines.
The brain reading startup counts Peter Gabriel as an advisor and will also explore how wearable devices can read and analyse the wearer's thoughts. Jepsen, who has worked for Google X, Intel and MIT Media Lab, is the latest high profile Silicon Valley exec to move into healthcare wearables.
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The idea is over a decade in the making. So why the interest in the brain? Well, she is also a brain tumour survivor and still takes medication 20 years after the operation. Jepsen's aim is for every doctor in the world to have this affordable MRI wearable for early detection of diseases.
Details are scarce at this stage but it's because of smartphones, tablets and VR headsets that she might get there. "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," she told Xconomy.
Open Water will build on work by researchers at U.C. Berkeley who built a database of how our brains react to images and used AI to analyse MRI brain scans and estimate what the person was thinking about. The startup's big goals include potentially helping stroke sufferers to talk or creating brain-prosthetic interfaces for amputees.
Jepsen has even hinted that Open Water's future devices could be used to essentially talk to animals. "Maybe we can communicate with animals, maybe we can scan animal brains and see what images they are thinking of," she said. "So little is known. Dolphins are supposed to be really smart - maybe we can collaborate with them."