Abundance insider: May 12, 2017 Edition

Written by Peter H. Diamandis | May 12, 2017

In this week's Abundance Insider: VR rehab for prisoners, AIs that can predict Alzheimer’s, and cranial surgery robots.

Peter, Marissa, Cody, Kelley, Greg, Sydney and AJ

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Self-Balancing Robot Pushes the Limits of Legged Locomotion

What it is: Researchers recently developed a two-legged robot named Planar Elliptical Runner at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Florida to explore how mechanical design can enable advanced legged locomotion. Unlike other legged robots, Planar Elliptical Runner operates without the use of sensors. Instead, a computer assists the machine's balance -- the mechanical design enables dynamic stability -- and a single motor drives the robot's legs in an elliptical motion. (Planar can run at 10 miles per hour. A human-sized version would be able to run 20 to 30 miles an hour.)

Why it's important: Today, robots are used to do human jobs where the work is either dull, dangerous or dirty. Tomorrow, robots will be commanding those professions where accuracy and patience are key. Commercially, legged robots could be deployed in situations where it's too dangerous or expensive to send a human -- for example, "nuclear power plant decommissioning and planetary exploration," as MIT Technology Review notes. Join the Discussion

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Sydney Fulkerson

Software Predicts Cognitive Decline Using Brain Images

What it is: Korean researchers have developed a deep learning algorithm to identify people likely to develop Alzheimer's in the next three years. PET scans can reveal the growth of amyloid plaques and slowed brain metabolism, as seen in the brain's use of glucose, but it's a time-consuming, error-prone task for human researchers to interpret the images. The team first trained their neural network on a database of over 300 brain images of people in their 70s -- some with normal brains, some with Alzheimer's. When tested against a different data set of 181 people in their 70s with mild cognitive impairment, their neural network identified those at risk 81 percent of the time, significantly higher than trained human observers.

Why it's important: The evidence for deep learning to spot complex health conditions earlier and more accurately than humans continues to grow. Today, AIs can outperform humans at diagnosing everything from cancer to heart disease. As we explore ways to contain healthcare costs and deliver more accurate, value-based care in the future, AI will play a pivotal role. Join the Discussion

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Jason Goodwin

This Terrifying Robot Can Drill Through Your Skull in 2 Minutes

What it is: Researchers at the University of Utah recently developed a robot that drills for cranial surgery. This procedure entails safely cutting an opening (a bone flap) into the skull to be able to access the brain underneath. Typically, an experienced surgeon performs this surgery in 2 hours. This computer-driven autonomous drill can perform the same task in only 2.5 minutes -- 50x faster than human surgeons. The technology first uses a CT scan of the patient's brain to collect bone data and important information on nerves and major veins. Human surgeons then program the robot's optimal drilling route using 3D modeling tech, enabling the robot to use its ultimate precision to drill down within 1 mm of sensitive structures.

Why it's important: Earlier this year we saw the world's first surgical robot to operate on a patient with retinal vein occlusion. Now we're witnessing robots that can perform cranial surgery 50x faster and with reduced risk for infection than experienced human surgeons. As surgical robots proliferate, surgeries that were once challenging for human specialists will be performed with complete accuracy and consistency. Join the Discussion

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Sydney Fulkerson

VR Rehab Helps Prisoners Learn Valuable Life Skills

What it is: A new initiative by Virtual Rehab uses virtual reality to develop real-life, fully immersive scenarios that could help prisoners learn valuable life skills they may need once their sentence is completed. The technology projects everyday scenarios an offender or addict might encounter upon their release, measures their reactions, and helps offenders and addicts discover ways to make better decisions and avoid reoffending or relapsing. Virtual Rehab is also currently working on developing programs that would help correctional officers deal with difficult situations and even empathize with inmates.

Why it's important: From influencing our retirement savings to healing the wounds of our past, VR has the potential to shift perspectives, create empathy and enable lasting behavioral changes. In this example, tech-enabled "perspective shifts" could help reduce the number of offenders and addicts that reoffend or relapse upon their release. Join the Discussion

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Sydney Fulkerson

A Sense of Hearing Could Make Cars Safer and More Reliable

What it is: Startup Otosense is giving cars a sense of hearing via a machine-learning software that can be trained to identify specific noises, such as subtle changes in an engine or a vehicle's brakes, flagging potential problems that electronic sensors can't pick up. When tested, the software has been able to identify unwanted noises from the HVAC, wheels and other components 95% of the time. Anticipated use cases include faster and earlier vehicle repair, making autonomous vehicles safer by picking up emergency sirens or changes in road conditions (for example snow, ice, etc), to enabling human drivers' decisionmaking capabilities.

Why it's important: Cars are quickly transforming into autonomous machines that continuously assess their environments and calibrate their responses accordingly. Compared to sensors, microphones are far cheaper and easier to deploy -- which could be a competitive advantage. In the open market, how will Otosense's audio machine learning approach fare against sensor-based approaches from other automakers? Join the Discussion

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Jason Goodwin

A Year After Approval, Gene-Therapy Cure Gets Its First Customer

What it is: In March, a child in Europe became the second-ever patient to receive gene therapy outside of a clinical trial. The child received the GlaxoSmithKline-developed therapy Strimvelis, which treats a rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency due to adenosine deaminase deficiency (ADA-SCID). To administer this "ex vivo" gene therapy, doctors removed the patient's bone marrow cells, modified them outside the body with an engineered virus, and returned the repaired cells to the body.

Why it's important: While the costs of commercial gene therapy have been large -- Strimvelis comes in at about $648,000 and Glybera cost $1 million before being pulled by UniQure -- the potential benefits are large for single nucleotide disorders. As gene therapy experimentation continues, will it demonetize and ultimately democratize, as we see with other exponentially growing technologies? Join the Discussion

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Jason Goodwin

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