Remote Surgery

An exciting new medical technology may soon be adapted for civilian use, thanks to technology transfer. With it, surgeons may be able to operate on patients located miles away. While telemedicine generally refers to a videoconferenced consultation, "telepresence surgery," as it is called, would carry it a giant step further.

The military wants to put an armored van into the battlefield, equipped with an operating room, staffed by a medical assistant and a surgical robot, operated remotely by the surgeon.

The surgeon sits in front of a 3D computer screen, fingers in metal loops which are manipulated much like familiar surgical instruments.

How precise is it? In a recently televised demonstration, a surgeon, connected by fiber-optic cables to the operating theatre, sewed up pig entrails with tiny stitches -- a particularly difficult operation similar to treating shrapnel wounds in the field. Plans are to eventually perform surgery via satellite transmissions.

The technology -- under development by SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif. -- could provide a way to deal swiftly with civilian casualties from natural or man-made disasters. It might also be valuable for treating patients during outbreaks of highly contagious diseases.

SRI International, 333 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025-3493. Call 415/326-6200.

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Bomb Detector

Before the Atlanta Olympics, an InVision Technologies explosives detection system was installed in the Delta baggage handling system at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. Interest in these devices -- spurred by the blast in Atlanta, as well as the possible bombing of TWA flight 800 off the coast of New York -- is growing.

The system installed in Atlanta, a CTX 5000, combines CAT scanning (computed tomography) and X-ray imaging to produce clear cross-sectional images of a bag's contents. A computer reconstructs the slices, and displays the densities of the objects within each slice. Suspicious objects are automatically located and highlighted regardless of their shape or environment. Traditional X-ray images may be difficult to interpret because images overlap and are superimposed.

InVision Technologies Inc., 3420 E. Third Ave., Foster City, CA 94404. Call 415/578-1930.

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"Spy Shop" Privacy Invaders

The availability of relatively inexpensive electronic components has spawned the "spy equipment" industry. Even though many such products are illegal, and the arrests of some distributors have been well-publicized, "spy shops" operate openly in many states, their catalogs are readily available, and even a cursory search of the Internet will turn up more than a hundred suppliers of such products. In most cases, all they require for purchase is an order form and a money order or cashier's check.

The equipment isn't too different from that employed by government agencies. The ready availability, however, ensures that it will be used by spiteful neighbors, voyeurs and criminals. And they'll be looking at us!

Many manufacturers and sellers of surveillance products also manufacture or sell counter-surveillance products. Worried about surveillance? Buy counter-surveillance products to protect yourself. The threat of these privacy-invading products may be greatly exaggerated to push sales of counter-surveillance products. In any case, they do exist and they can be purchased.

ON HOLD? HOLD YOUR TONGUE!

The county was being sued by the family of a traffic-accident victim. The turn lane was improperly marked, and the county-supervised ambulance service took too long to arrive, the plaintiffs claimed. Attorneys and county officials met to discuss the matter. During the meeting, several telephone calls were made to clarify matters. A return call from the plaintiff's attorney arrived, the plaintiff made an offer of an out-of-court settlement, then apologized, saying he needed to put the county on hold to take another call.

While they were "on hold," county officials discussed the offer. Unknown to them, the plaintiff's attorney heard every word. He was using

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