Most people feel confident that they know a fair amount about their own body, in terms of general health and what they look like from the outside. However, most of us haven’t taken a look inside—literally speaking. Ed Barton and his UK-based startup Curiscope is hoping to change that with a unique blend of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Using an anatomy VR app and the company’s Virtuali-Tee, a t-shirt, they are allowing people to see inside of their own chest cavities.
Barton explained to Wired: “We use a mix of VR and AR to see inside the anatomy…With positionally tracked AR, you can position VR experiences physically within your environment.”
Barton and Curiscope co-founder Ben Kidd have so far raised almost $1 million in seed funding from LocalGlobe, and they’ve already sold almost 3,000 of the Virtuali-Tees.
High Tech T-Shirt
Barton told Wired that, using positional tracking, “we have a blurring of physical and digital items, and an experience more tightly connected to reality.” He continued, “With the Virtuali-Tee, AR is your interface and VR is used to transport you somewhere else. The technologies should be merging.”
This technology works using a highly-stylized QR code printed onto the front of the t-shirt. When you scan the code with the corresponding app, you can explore throughout the chest cavity, including the heart and lungs.
This t-shirt, specifically, could be a fantastic tool for the curious. It can be used for educational purposes, allowing anatomy and biology to be a fun experience that students can really wrap their minds around. Even outside of a formal educational setting, this device could allow us to better connect with our own biology. Virtuali-Tee could help people to better understand their own inner workings, and how the things we do every day—from what we eat to how we exercise—might affect our health.
Delivering our online orders and groceries are one application of drone technology, but while that’s still farther off than we may like, it should be noted that drones are already being used for deliveries in other areas, such as moving blood and other medical resources between hospitals.
Matternet is one such company providing this service in Switzerland, even though it’s based out of California. Matternet built its own drone base station to automate ground operations as well as air traffic, and they’re currently testing their drone network throughout the country.
As explained by Wired, packages are placed in a shoebox-size storage container, then scanned using a QR reader. The package is then transferred to one of Matternet’s drones, and the delivery begins. According to the company, the drones can travel about 12 miles while carrying around 4 pounds, and are capable of finding the safest path through the air — they use the same airspace as emergency helicopters and constantly broadcast their locations.
Prior to the introduction of the drones, hospitals would use third-party couriers to get supplies around. The problem with that, however, was price and trustworthiness.
“We have a vision of a distributed network, not hub and spoke, but true peer-to-peer,” says Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos.
Zipline is another company using drones to deliver medical supplies to remote health workers in Rwanda and Tanzania, starting in 2018. Workers text their order to the company, who then prepare the items before sending them off. Within fifteen minutes, the drone will drop the package attached to a parachute, with the worker being notified throughout the entire process.
Going forward, Matternet has plans to expand beyond remote locations. The company wants to bring their drone network to more populated areas in Switzerland before the end of 2017, then branch out to the rest of Europe, followed by the U.S. and Japan. If everything goes well, the California-based company hopes more people will use their drones. The speed of their deliveries will be a huge benefit to those requiring medical attention, and knowing help is quickly on the way could provide some much needed solace amidst traumatic injuries.
Cyborgs: humans who have been merged with machines; a hybrid of sorts. What was once the subject of far-out science fiction has now entered reality as a medical tool. From implants to robotics, there is a whole host of emerging technologies that aim to treat health conditions and aid those suffering from different disabilities by turning people into, technically, cyborgs.
It might seem to be going too far to use the term cyborg when discussing, for instance, new versions of prosthetic limbs. However, carbon fiber and titanium prostheses are now commonplace, and most artificial limbs are fully functional. For example, in the video below, you can see the dexterity and capabilities of one prosthetic arm. Since this video was created, prostheses have advanced even further, with researchers going so far as to create robotic hands that can be controlled with one’s brain — and they have a sense of touch.
Artificial limb technologies like the “blades” used by Paralympians are even so advanced that some have started to discuss whether or not they are more capable than organic limbs. But artificial limbs aren’t the only advancements in so-called “cyborg tech.” One Swedish company is implanting its employees with microchips to allow them to do things like access doors with the wave of a hand instead of with a key. Elon Musk thinks that his neural lace could actually make human beings smarter. Many are experimenting with the many possibilities of merging humankind with machines.
A Cyborg Future
The authors of a recent paper in Science Roboticsdiscussed the potential issues with the future of such technologies:
There needs to be a debate on the future evolution of technologies as the pace of robotics and AI is accelerating. It seems certain that future assistive technologies will not only compensate for human disability but also drive human capacities beyond our innate physiological levels. The associated transformative influence will bring on broad social, political, and economic issues.
Once we officially cross that line, once the technologies that we create to assist those with difficulties and disabilities begin to advance human capabilities beyond what is biologically possible, we will have a teeming variety of moral and practical issues to deal with. Many believe that this will be humanity’s “next step in evolution.” Indeed, if we are ever going to colonize Mars and expand our reign in the Solar System, that might be a necessary evolution. Whatever moral and ethical quandaries may exist, it might not be possible for us to take such large strides without becoming cyborgs.
So, more likely than not, the day will come and we will cross that line. Will cyborg humans have the same rights and be bound by the same laws as biologically ordinary citizens? Will cyborgs be vulnerable to hacking and manipulation? Will warfare forever change with the possible advancement of military exoskeletons? The list goes on and on. And so, while we might not all be walking around as half-machines just yet, it might be a good idea to plan ahead.
The transition from one year to the next is always a little uncertain – an uneasy blend of anxiety and optimism, it’s also a time of retrospection, introspection, and even a little tentative prognostication. And since the latter is our stock-in-trade at Futurism, we believe now is the perfect time to look ahead at what 2017 has in store for us.
Here’s our list of some of the many wonderful advances in medicine we can look forward to in 2017.
Sophisticated technologies have always had an important role to play in medicine, with each year adding extraordinary new tools to the physician’s medicine bag—2017 will be no exception.
We can, for instance, expect further improvements in the technology of robotic surgery. In addition to the currently available da Vinci Surgical System, look to see competition from the new surgical robot system developed by the partnership of Google and Johnson & Johnson. These new systems will parlay advances in software, miniaturization, and robotics to allow for minimally invasive surgeries on the most delicate elements of human anatomy.
We can expect the application of AI to medicine to only increase in the coming year, when the need to cull through and assimilate enormous quantities of medical data—whether on an individual or large-scale, societal basis—will become critical. Meanwhile, the danger that potentially flawed machine learning programs will supplant rather than merely supplement human medical judgment will also become much more than just an abstruse, academic question for medical ethicists.
A Pharmacological Revolution
But 2017 won’t be just about robots and artificial intelligence. It’s likely that some of the less visually spectacular medical technologies will yield the most astonishing medical breakthroughs. Drug research, for instance, is poised to take off in 2017—especially with immunotherapeutic treatments for cancer.
According to Stanley Marks, chairman of the UPMC CancerCenter, it is these treatments—which marshal the body’s immune system to attack and destroy cancerous cells—that represent the single most promising new front in the war on cancer. Using checkpoint inhibitor drugs and CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapies, it’s become possible to mobilize the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer.
The method involves extracting T-cells from the patient’s own blood, and genetically engineering them to recognize, attach to, and neutralize tumorous cells. It’s already had promising results in fighting some leukemias, so we can look forward to more research on these remarkable “living drugs” in 2017.
The revolutionary CRISPR/Cas-9 gene-editing technology has disrupted biology like nothing else—and bids fair to transform it from a slow, imprecise science to something approaching the precision of the physical sciences. What 2017 holds for gene-editing technology is anyone’s guess—it’s even possible that the Chinese, or some other nation with laxer standards than are currently permitted in the U.S., might begin a more widespread use of the technique in human subjects.
But expect passive measures, too, such as simply learning how Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases progress, or even non-medical agricultural and industrial uses for the technology. As Nicola Patron of the Earlham Institute sagely observes, “Understanding what DNA sequences do is what enables us to solve problems in every field of biology from curing human diseases, to growing enough healthy food, to discovering and making new medicines, to understanding why some species are going extinct.”
The bottom line: 2017 is looking to be an exciting year, in all avenues of research and discovery, but particularly in medicine. And if all the above wasn’t exciting enough for you—you can look forward to capping it off with what might be the world’s first head transplant.
Disembodied heads or not, you can read all about the latest developments here at Futurism.