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Jun 23, 2022

The Future of Healthcare with NeoCam

DepthAI
Computer Vision
Applications/Experiments
It’s important in an industry like ours to take time to peel back any layers of abstraction and show directly how important computer vision is to the future of the world. Take a look at this.
And that’s just one example. And not only is it super cool, it’s a perfect tip-of-the-iceberg example for the kind of impact this technology can have. The CTO of OpenCV.ai literally said "This is bigger than us" in awe after first watching this video. We agree. We'll dive into the specifics of what Team CALETA built in just a second, but first we'd like to take a detour to discuss why we are doing what we are doing, and why we’re working so hard to build a holistic computer vision ecosystem for our customers.

Simple and Easy Matters. Even for Pros.

Simplification has been the key to innovation for ages. It's likely one of the most overlooked things when telling stories of innovation. The breakthrough moments, those crazy things and inventions, those "strokes of genius," are actually often a result of combinations of technologies that were simplified enough that someone could combine them to make something new, something valuable. Simple enough that the hard part was no longer the underlying technology.  The steam engine is a prime example. It was invented in a basement, by a technician with an idea. The reason he could invent it was because he was benefiting from all sorts of technologies that had already been simplified–were affordable–and most importantly were in his hands and easy to use. This technician combined existing, easy technologies in a novel way and forever changed the world. This is our goal. We are making the combination of tiny, performant, depth-sensing, artificial intelligence, and computer vision into “the easy part.” We want to make it like the tools the technician used to invent the steam engine.  

Enabling Things That Are Bigger Than Us

Now back to CALETA, and how what they’re doing is bigger than us. We can't wait to do whatever we can to help CALETA realize their dream. We were blown away by what CALETA built here. And that's how we want to feel with every single customer relationship. To make this technology easy and accessible enough that it's no longer just experts in computer vision who can benefit from it, but anyone–including experts in other fields. In places impossible for us to anticipate. And that is when this gets really cool: allowing experts like the CALETA team to build their vision, by making depth sensing, AI, and computer vision the easy part. We gave them the LEGO blocks and they build themselves a castle.

Real-Time Monitoring of Pre-Term Neonates (Newborns)

We won't be able to do this mission justice here, as we are not experts in this field, but not being experts may actually be of benefit in explaining this. So although we're probably going to say some things wrong technically (and perhaps make a Medical Doctor or two cringe), we may have an advantage in describing this in our terms.   What does CALETA's system do? It uses depth sensing, AI, and computer vision to look for the cues that expert natal intensive care unit doctors and nurses look for in newborns to monitor their health, development, and in particular neurological development. The figure below gives an overview.
Expanded Image View The system monitors:
  • Motion and over time, which is what Doctors look for signs of neurological development.
  • Stress and facial expression of the baby, for detecting if something physically may be wrong.
  • Breathing activity, which is essential to know real-time. Every second counts.
  • Abnormal situations, for example if the baby is in a bad location/pose, has their face covered, etc.

Why CALETA's System is So Important

There are two hugely important things about using computer vision instead of traditional monitoring solutions:
  • It has the promise to make it so a bunch of wires no longer need to be literally glued to the baby. These wires prevent circulation risk, strangulation risk, and at the very least are an irritant. No one wants sensors glued to them, least of all a tiny baby with ultra-sensitive skin.
  • It allows collecting data that just wasn't possible before. So not only is the monitoring safer, it's also a ton better. It approaches the sort of things that trained doctors and nurses see when they look at a baby. But most importantly, with computer vision these measurements can be constantly quantized.
Let's dig into that second point a bit more. With Spatial AI it is possible to approach human-like perception in field-specific ways, like monitoring newborns. But there's a big advantage to a device doing this perceiving instead of a human; devices can do it all the time, day or night.  They don't need to sleep. And everything a device observes–every insight–can be quantized and made available to everyone, at no additional cost. It allows a doctor or a nurse to have awareness and give care at the level as if he or she were literally watching a single baby, non-stop, 24/7, without doing anything else. Something that is otherwise impossible. And the technology allows this for not just a single baby, but for many babies, in a scalable way. So now dozens of babies can get care at a level equivalent of a doctor literally spending 24/7 non-stop watching them. Why does cost matter? When getting the honor to discuss CALETA's system with them directly, we almost didn't ask the question "How do you see OAK-D-Lite fitting in your mission". Why? We were thinking that this is the medical field and thought "cost doesn't matter in the medical space–everything is so expensive".  We mentioned our hesitancy to ask this question, alluding to cost-reduction maybe not mattering to CALETA's mission. And this is the second time we were blown away by CALETA. What's next changes everything.

This Is Just The Beginning

In CALETA's video, they end with how this is just the beginning. We didn't get what that meant until we brought up OAK-D-Lite and its lower price, and our hesitancy to even ask if it would be useful for their cause. It turns out, it's extremely useful. Why? Because CALETA's system acts as a force multiplier,  allowing a doctor to give better care than they could otherwise, not just to one baby, but enabling dozens of babies in a NICU to receive better care than a single doctor focusing on a single baby alone. What if this technology could be brought out of the NICU? What if this force multiplication effect could be brought home? So when an at-risk baby is brought home a doctor or nurse (or parent) could provide this better-than-NICU care automatically and remotely? And what if this technology could enable babies who are not born into the marvel of modern, highest-tech-possible hospitals of the wealthiest nations on Earth?  Can this technology be used to help those babies? That is why what CALETA mentions is just the beginning.  And that is why getting cost down matters. And if the cost can get down low enough, such an incredibly-useful, life-saving invention as theirs can simply be mailed to where it needs to be and enable the best-in-world level care of the most sophisticated country on Earth–for any baby, in any country on Earth. And that's what this is all about.

Erik Kokalj
Erik KokaljDirector of Applications Engineering