Zoom out for the big picture—this won’t last forever

Have we ever relied on technology more than we have in the past few weeks? From home-office hangouts to whirlwind advancements in telemedicine, our time in isolation has demonstrated that—when left to our own devices—we can come together to make things happen.

In the spirit of innovation, here are some examples of technological headway at TEDxTUM that lit the path before the world shifted, and continue to shine onward.

As we inch ever closer to a new version of normal, it still feels like we have more questions than answers. There’s so much to learn, and we’re all just feeling our collective way through it on the fly.

And yet, let’s think about the world we have the power to carve out for ourselves. The world we can personally sculpt. The world that heals with grace, the world that nourishes its people, the world that propels itself forward into the future.

The world you want is waiting. How will you help create it?

Gordon Cheng: Making robots safe and huggable

If you’ve ever cut your finger and needed to text on a touchscreen, you understand the struggle of instantly not having that crucial tactile layer to use in your daily life. As TUM’s Gordon Cheng puts it, “we sense before we touch.” Our perceptions of proximity, temperature, acceleration, and force are all rolled into our skin’s natural sensors—acting as not only a barrier, but a detector for all these faculties.

“I looked around the world. I couldn’t buy anything…so, we started building it.” 

– Gordon Cheng

Gordon, an interdisciplinary scientist who currently focuses on Cognitive Systems, dared to ask the question: why are there no robots with skin? And, when he found that no “robot skin” existed, he set out on a ten-year mission to create his own. 

By creating and outfitting robots with this tactile layer, Gordon can break down a digital divide between humans and machines. When robots can react to external stimuli in the same manner as human beings, they instantly become safer to use…and, unexpectedly, more endearing. Have you ever seen a robot hug a human? In Gordon’s vision of the future, that doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Nassir Navab: Medical Augmented Reality: coming soon to (operating) theaters near you

For doctors and laymen alike, the human body is a maze of perplexity. Whether you panic-Google your symptoms or you’ve dedicated your life to the practice of medicine, there’s a certain allure to understand what, exactly, is going on beneath the surface. Some might even go as far as wishing they even had a window into a human body, just to see the systems at work.

Nassir Navab is here to say that that wish can be a reality.

“A surgeon who cuts well and sutures well is not the definition of surgery.”

– Nassir Navab

Nassir takes us on a journey through surgical advancements, beginning with early practices over a century ago. In those days, surgeons used a primitive “input-output” system where patients were viewed as a human black box, and invasive measures were taken only in dire circumstances. In the 20th century, medical imaging systems became rapidly available, opening doctors’ eyes to the inner workings of humans. 

In this century, Nassir and his team want to take medical imaging to the next level. Starting with a headset camera that uses a reserve of CT data, the device gives what looks like an actual window into a patient’s body—bones, nerves, arteries, and even entire organ systems—without a single incision.

With Nassir’s cutting-edge work to clear the murky precedents of medical imaging, how many medical errors can be avoided? How many deaths can be prevented?

Manuel Opitz: The Perfect Fit — Individualized, Fashionable, 3D-printed Prosthetics

In his 2017 talk, Manuel Opitz begins by asking the audience a seemingly innocuous question about the shoes they’re wearing: “Imagine wearing the same pair of shoes every day for the next four weeks. Or let’s say even four months. Or let’s say four years. Every season. Every waking hour.”

Generally speaking, we take a one-type-fits-all approach to footwear because, naturally, we can always take off our shoes at the end of a long day. And yet, why do we expect the same of orthopedic devices?

“Something which you may have been ashamed of in the past now becomes a personal statement—rather more like a fashion statement or even an accessory.”

– Manuel Opitz

After having to use an arduous and ill-fitting head brace himself, Manuel reasoned that there should be a better way to tackle this painful problem shared by many around the world—so he helped to create one. Teaming up with a physician in Munich in 2015, Manuel spurred his original idea into motion: to create tailor-made orthopedic devices using CT scans and a 3D printer.

Manuel and his team have created a range of different customizable products, from temporary braces to long-term prosthetic limbs. Their designs are lightweight, agile, and—in a move that pivots from the stale routine of typical orthopedic devices—fashionable. The emphasis on appearance, Manuel explains, was a critical aspect of his vision. When a patient can customize their prosthetic limb or brace, it begins to feel like a new part of the body.

As Manuel and his colleagues work to revolutionize orthopedic devices, their efforts create a double effect. They’re not simply taking an industry into the next generation; they’re empowering a legion of people who were sidelined by disability.