Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen on Transformative Technology for Social Good – Interview

March 17, 2017

4:30 pm

Entrepreneurs are not waiters. After all, why wait for technology to emerge when you can invent it. That’s how Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen approaches solving social issues with technology, just pioneer it.

Mary Lou is widely known for her talent in optical engineering and systems. She has also led teams in advanced consumer electronics and virtual reality at Facebook and Oculus and had a similar role at Google and Google [x]. Along with Nicholas Negroponte, she cofounded One Laptop per Child where she was the lead inventor and architect of the $100 laptop.

Her latest moonshot is Openwater with a mission to reduce the cost of technology in healthcare and make it possible for people to have access to affordable diagnostic healthcare equipment. At Openwater, Mary Lou intends to replace the functionality of the multi-million dollar massive MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine with a consumer electronics wearable using novel opto-electronics to obtain the same results.

The drive to develop this wearable was inspired by her own illness. In 1995, during her Ph.D. program, Mary Lou was diagnosed with a brain tumor and couldn’t afford an MRI scan. Eventually, a generous person sprang for the cost of the MRI and doctors were able identify the depth of the tumor and remove it. In time, Mary Lou returned to her Ph.D. program, where she went on to build companies around her inventions.

“The technology is the thing that’s made healthcare so expensive. And as a technologist, one thing you can do is lower the cost of the technology in healthcare. I’m focused on lowering the cost of these MRI, CT and PAT scanners and make it into a wearable because it can be transformative for healthcare. Indeed, I nearly died because no one wanted to give me an MRI,” Mary Lou said in our interview.

Openwater takes an unconventional approach to scanning and detecting cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, brain diseases, and beyond, through a wearable that will enable constant monitoring of one’s health. The company is planning to release prototypes later this year to select partners.

I caught up with Mary Lou at SXSW and talked about Openwater, her mission for social good, and her personal inspiration for the latest invention that will transform the way we will diagnose diseases.

Austin has a city motto of “Keep Austin Weird.” In that spirit, I asked Mary Lou about how she keeps it weird and authentic and in doing so stays true to herself.

Read more about virtual reality here at Tech.Co.

This SXSW video series is brought you by .ME, which gives a truly personal tone to your domain name with its unforgettable meaning and word combination possibilities. Let .ME be the go to place for your online business or blog for people to learn about you. Learn more at www.stayweirdwith.me.


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Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.