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Diagnostic imaging with MRI, PET, and CT scanners saves millions of lives with high-resolution images that let physicians see inside our bodies. A relatively new technology called “functional MRI” (fMRI) observes blood flow rather than just the structures imaged by regular MRIs. We wrote about fMRI previously, citing work at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital using fMRI to detect neural activity. The multi-million dollar cost of these scanners and their large size restricts their use.

Openwater, a startup in Sausalito, California, has set out to transform diagnostic imaging to the point that imaging devices could be used in homes, ambulances, doctor’s offices, and in developing countries. The key to this bold vision is Openwater’s founder and CEO, Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen. Jepsen’s experience and successes with novel hardware and software systems at companies including Google, Facebook, and Oculus speak as loudly as her degrees and patented inventions. Most of her patents are in optoelectronics and systems, with more than 100 published patents in the last five years.

Openwater’s initial goal is to reduce the size and cut the cost of the best wearable imaging systems at consumer electronics price levels, leveraging existing consumer electronics manufacturing facilities and production techniques. The key to the Openwater approach is a principle of physics that says light scattered by the body does so in a predictable manner. The company’s technology takes advantage of this scattering to scan the brain or body with LCDs and detectors lining bandages, ski hats, or other garments. According to Jepsen, this technology can scan the body continuously, enabling observations similar to fMRIs.

Openwater’s furthest goal is technology that enables communication with thought alone, which according to Jepsen has been documented by neuroscientists with large-scale MRI scanners. Moving quickly on the path to wearable MRI-comparable scanners, Openwater plans to release prototypes within the year to partners.