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Facebook Exec's New Startup 'Open Water' Targets Wearable Brain Imaging ( 90

gthuang88 writes: Display-tech guru Mary Lou Jepsen is leaving her post at Facebook/Oculus to work on a new startup called Open Water. Jepsen, a veteran of Google X and the MIT Media Lab, says the company will develop wearable MRI devices that could help doctors do early detection of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Inspired in part by musician Peter Gabriel, Open Water also hopes to use advances in neural imaging and brain-machine interfaces to create a system for reading and communicating human thoughts electronically. She believes there's huge potential in the manufacturing plants in Asia that are primarily used to make OLEDs and LCDs. "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." At that price-point, every doctor's office in the world could afford such a device and use it to detect early stages of neurodegenerative disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, internal bleeding, blood clots, and more.
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Facebook Exec's New Startup 'Open Water' Targets Wearable Brain Imaging

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 06, 2016 @11:50PM (#52065343)


    The magnet field emitted by an MRI is so powerful it can cause metal objects to fly through the air and damage the machine. By what magic of DSP voodoo do they propose to shrink a machine which makes a Microwave Oven look like an LED flashlight by comparison down to a "wearable" size/price?

    Does it use the earth's magnetic field with an extremely long "shutter time"? If so: how do they address the target moving while the continuous "exposure" is recording? Where is this data being cached and how is it getting off the wearable and into the cloud?

    • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Saturday May 07, 2016 @12:02AM (#52065375) Journal

      You don't "get it". It's the cloud, machine learning, BYOD, data analytics, open sourced, sharing, wearable social media.

      Think outside the box! Who needs those pesky old sk3wl laws of physics? We can do it better than a bunch of old l4m3rz.

    • Yeah, it can never [] happen []

      • by plopez ( 54068 )

        It's a different situation. I's not just about making things smaller it is about energy. How do you reduce the amount of energy required to penetrate flesh and bone. X-ray machines are still quite large because the power and wavelength needs are fixed.

        • It's about energy density []... I believe the number is not a typo...

          I am not saying this facebook thing isn't a gimmick, just that someday it will be plausible. Or that there are other ways of measuring and mapping brain activity.

      • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
        It's not a matter of computational power. Sure, your cellphone has more CPU horsepower than what they used to get to the moon ... but it still doesn't fly to the moon because it doesn't come with a Saturn V rocket. It's a hardware ... thing.
    • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Saturday May 07, 2016 @12:50AM (#52065455)

      Oh yeah, a Facebook exec starting a spinoff company that targets my brainwaves....that sounds just wonderful. I'm sure they'd never use it for advertising or anything like that.

      • Maybe not advertising. YET - your brain will be scanned to what you could be coerced into 'needing'!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Earth-field NMRs do exist. Personally, I don't want to wear a huge coil around my head, it would clash with my tin foil hat.

      • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
        Earth-field NMRs do exist.

        Maybe. NMR doesn't require a gradient field for obtaining spatial information. MRI, on the other hand, does require a gradient field, unless you're content with having only one voxel in your image.

        • by Uecker ( 1842596 )

          Earth-field MRIs do exist too.

          Ofcourse, it takes 4 hours to get a blurry image of a fruit (which does not move).

          • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
            Earth-field MRIs do exist too.

            ... which use Earths magnetic field as the primary field, but still use coils to generate the secondary (gradient) field.

            • by Uecker ( 1842596 )

              Sure, and RF-coils too (as does NMR), but RF-coils and gradient coils generate relatively small fields. The point is that you do not need a huge superconducting magnet to do MRI.

              • by NotAPK ( 4529127 )

                "The point is that you do not need a huge superconducting magnet to do [low-resolution] MRI [on stationary objects]."

    • This is exactly my question. Its also an interesting one with implications beyond brain scans if this isn't BS. I do smell the distinct odor of BS here.

      If it's for real, maybe they use a less powerful magnetic field and a much more sensitive receiver. Noise can be cancelled by stacking (as in astrophotography) many scans and processing with the new generation of graphics cards. Perhaps they are using scanning radio beams tuned to the resonant frequencies of specific elements to be scanned in place of the
      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        You don't need a fancy graphics card to stack images. It's done in regular MRI all the time too. The problem is, signal to noise ratio goes up approximately linearly with field strength, but recovering that SNR by averaging takes N^2 images, which take N^2 time to acquire.

        • That's exactly what I was thinking. I was just theorizing that with something like the new kepler nvidia cards you might be able to process a pipeline of images as they were rapidly acquired to reduce gargantuan data storage requirements.

          The far bigger challenge in my mind is the rf section of the system. It's inconceivable that a wearable mri could have a conventional MRI mechanism with a mechanical shutter. It would have to be a phased array with a synthetic aperture. That would enable a rapid scanning,
    • The magnetic field of an MRI determines the wavelength of the absorbed/re-emitted signal. MRIs use high-strength magnetic fields to get the higher precision that comes from using shorter wavelengths.

      You can make an MRI that sits on your desktop. See "The Amateur Scientist" by C.L. Strong for an example.

      The big issue with MRIs is uniformity of the magnetic field. Since the signal is dependent on the field strength, any variation in this strength results in signals of a different frequency. MRIs are tradition

    • By what magic of DSP voodoo do they propose to shrink a machine which makes a Microwave Oven look like an LED flashlight by comparison down to a "wearable" size/price?

      So, miniaturization...this is where I think the core concept of the (fallacious) 'Moore's Law' actually can be seen in effect.

      What I mean is, though it is not any kind of formula or 'law', we can see a very idetifiable trend towards making our tech smaller. It's so clear and consistent it's about as close to 'certain' as these kinds of things

    • Inverse square law. A current MRi is big enough to put your body in the cavity. A small unit would be right against your scalp. Plus, we have some extraordinarily strong magnets available to augment the fields generated by the unit. I don't think this is impossible, but I bet the battery life will be in the toilet...
      • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
        A current MRi is big enough to put your body in the cavity. A small unit would be right against your scalp

        The current MRI isn't just so large because it need to generate strong magnetic fields, but also because it requires magnetic fields with known and controllable gradients (to recover spatial information and to keep the MR signal within the frequency range the device is best suited to pick up).

        The inverse square law isn't useful here, because the object of the MRI scan is located where field strength

    • by DiEx-15 ( 959602 )
      Failbook dabbling in brain stuff.

      Yeah, what could POSSIBLY go wronEEERRRKKKK!

      ***You have been banned from Life because you violated Failbook's Community Standards.***
  • This has the potential to be an awesome lie detector. Not as clumsy and ineffective as a polygraph. I can see the beginning of a wonderful friendship between FB and the DoD.
    • by tgv ( 254536 )

      You can fool it in the same way as a polygraph.

    • and use it to detect early stages of neurodegenerative disease, cancer, independent thinking, critical thinking, and a propensity to vote against the ruling party


  • and use it to detect early stages of neurodegenerative disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, internal bleeding, blood clots, and more.

    We already know the detrimental effects of smoking, doing drugs, being obese, not eating a somewhat healthy diet, lack of exercise and so on yet people continue to do all of the above and more.

    If the trillions we've already spent stating the obvious haven't worked, restating them in a different form isn't going to matter.
  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Saturday May 07, 2016 @02:48AM (#52065739)
    Right. So a 'display tech guru' bets that they can cram a device that a) generates magnetic fields in the single-digit tesla range and that b) basically relies on, electromagnetically speaking, hearing grass grow (and therefore requires a room with relative EM silence) and that c) for a certain range of examinations relies on stuff being injected into the patient, into a safe, wearable, customer-friendly, gadget-priced device.

    My prognosis as a medical device engineer is that they'll manage maybe one of those four ...

    Oh, and btw, MRIs are cheap, fast and plentiful today. I've experienced a time when that wasn't the case, when there were two devices in the whole country and a month-long waiting list based on how interesting your case is. And the examination took over three hours, compared to just under 30 minutes today. If anyone claims that MRIs are too expensive today, my guess is that they're in country with a backwater health insurance system. Which could be fixed more easily than cramming a medical-grade MRI into a gadget form factor.

    • by tgv ( 254536 )

      Last time I had a course, they still cost quite a lot to operate because of Helium leakage, and the special requirements for their environment (magnetic shielding and all), and they cost a couple of M$ to begin with. That's 8 years ago now, but I haven't heard of anything except measures to limit Helium leakage.

      • by ChumpusRex2003 ( 726306 ) on Saturday May 07, 2016 @07:47AM (#52066289)
        EM shielding is still essential, and nothing has really developed to change this. The signals are incredibly weak, and extensive RF shielding is required. To give an example, an incandescent light bulb in the scanner room which is reaching end-of-life can produce so much RF from micro-arcs on the failing filament that it can completely swamp the signal.

        Capital cost is still very high, typically in the region of $1.5 million for a 1.5T machine, and $2.5-3 million for a 3T machine. Capital costs for the more capable machines are going up due to various developments - e.g. parallel receiver channels (up to 256 channels in the latest machines), parallel transmit channels with higher pulse powers (currently 2x 40 kW RF power amps and transmit antennas, but systems with 4 or 8 transmit channels are in development). Not to mention that there is a push towards larger dimension magnets, which substantially increase the capital cost.

        There has also been considerable development in new algorithms for faster imaging, by using incomplete or overlapped imaging acquisitions, which requires extremely complex mathematical processing. CT scanners went through this development a few years ago to improve quality and reduce radiation dose, and image reconstruction went from a 1 ms task running in software, to a 250 ms task running on a 20U rack packed with $250k+ of GPUs. It is likely that the next generation of MRI scanners will use similar compute hardware.

        All MRI scanners made in the last 5 years are zero-helium loss, so should not require any top-up of helium. However, they do need heavy chillers to recondense the helium - chillers with cooling powers of up to 1 W are now routinely used, which bring with them energy costs of around $20-30k per year. Many manufacturers also offer helium-free magnets (essentially the magnet coils are bonded to a giant copper/aluminium thermal mass, which is bonded to a cryochiller), these are substantially more expensive in capital cost, and energy cost, and much less tolerant to power failure. However, for areas where helium fills are impractical or too expensive, then these are a viable option.
        • by tgv ( 254536 )


          I remember the panic at the institute where I worked when there was a power failure and the emergency power didn't function. It came not really close to the moment where the Helium would be vented, but it was rather tense.

          • Helium has a very low latent heat of vaporization. As a result, an uncompensated heat flux of 1 W into the cryostat will boil off about 15 litres of helium per hour.

            With most MRI magnets only holding a spare inventory of under 300 litres, there would be a significant risk of quench if power could not be restored within 24 hours or so.

            For this reason, backup generator power for the chillers is strongly recommended for MRI systems, even if generator power is not provisioned for the operation of the scan
        • by NotAPK ( 4529127 )

          Thank you for the insightful and informative comment. I hope this reaches +5 soon, it surprised me a little that it's not there already (currently at +2 with 76 comments in the thread) though I may be too enthusiastic.

    • So.. What you are saying is the solution is for everyone to pay a major part of their income as health insurance tax so they don't directly see there large amount they are paying for MRI?
      Innovative.. But I don't quite see how hiding the cost makes them cheap.. Do you?
      Thought not.

  • Meh, I'll wait until it's injectable into eyeballs.

  • Open Water also hopes to use advances in neural imaging and brain-machine interfaces to create a system for reading and communicating human thoughts electronically

    Feasibility of any such device aside.. I don't for a second believe that this is being worked on to benefit medical science, it's just an attack on pretty much the last place you can have privacy: Your own thoughts. Them, them, FUCK THEM, and their privacy-invading bullshit.

  • Cannot wait to see what Peter Gabriel creates with tools like this!

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington