The TouchPad and MRI: Works like no other (thanks to plastic) | webOS Nation

The TouchPad and MRI: Works like no other (thanks to plastic)

by Riz Parvez Tue, 06 Dec 2011 9:31 pm EST

Without a doubt, the design choices HP made with regard to the TouchPad were largely panned by the tech community:Why so much plastic? Couldn’t they have made it thinner?

While these criticisms hold absolutely true in the consumer space, specialty applications in enterprise continue to show themselves as an entirely different ballgame.

Remember enterprise? Surely this was one of the most promising prospects for webOS under the stewardship of HP. While the last several months of tumult have left much of that potential still untapped, a post today from John Kneeland on the HP webOS Developer Blog certainly goes a long way to rekindle the imagination of how beautifully webOS, and the much maligned hardware of the TouchPad, can work like no other in one industry: Healthcare.

First, a little background: Technological applications in healthcare are constantly advancing. Researchers are always trying to improve practitioners’ ability to prevent, diagnose, treat, and cure disease. One field on the cutting edge of the interface between technology and health is Interventional Radiology (IR). IR specialists use multiple technologies like Magnetic Resonance (MR), Ultrasound (US), and Computed Tomography (CT) to visualize disease processes, then intervene to change the course of an illness.

One fascinating example of this that will be near-and-dear to the hearts (and possibly other organs) of the webOS community comes by way of Stanford University IR Researcher Andrew B. Holbrook. Holbrook, a researcher with multiple publications on the subject of IR, noticed a significant shortcoming with the tech being used in the MR suite to conduct a cutting-edge procedure called High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU). Due to the nature of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, there were significant limitations to the kinds of devices that could be used near the scanner: Hard disks wipe, and metallic objects quickly become projectiles in response to the magnetic field generated by the scanner, which functions at an intensity 30,000 to 60,000 times that of the Earth. In this highly demanding environment, Holbrook found himself relegated to the use of clunky devices and inelegant workarounds to effectively conduct scans.

Until the TouchPad and webOS, that is.

With it’s minimal use of glue and plastic-intensive housing, the TouchPad was already ahead of it’s rivals with regard to usability near an MR scanner. Following some further modifications to remove the vibrating motor and the speakers (with the help of HP’s hardware engineers, no less), Holbrook was able to adapt the TouchPad into the ideal device for use within the MR suite.

As it turns out, webOS and its supporters were also a perfect fit for Holbrook. With some help from the dev community, Holbrook was able to write several trick PDK applications to control the equipment and monitor patients, all without leaving the field.  Of course his apps are all easily viewable in concert thanks to webOS’s best-in-class multitasking, and he’s even been able to make some of them backward compatible all the way to the Pixi. Take that, fragmentation.

So what’s next for Holbrook and webOS? Given the success he’s had so far with webOS and the TouchPad, he hopes to continue to develop further applications, and even begin using our favorite OS and tablet in Stanford Radiology clinical trials in the very near future. Seems like an OS that gives life support, rather than one that’s on it.