Through the looking glass

A recent issue of PC Magazine focused on technologies of the future that have prototypes today. Many of these will have an impact on the treatment rooms of the future.

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

Earlier this year, I reported on companies that allow storage of study models in a virtual 3D program. The images can be rotated to see the various angles. Now, an actual 3D screen is in the works. Its design is similar to the 3D souvenir cards found in gift shops. Phillips Corporation is trying to incorporate this effect into its new 3D monitors. The effect is called "lenticular imaging" and is being applied to a line of LCD monitors. The initial results are interesting at best. As you get farther from the screen, the depth diminishes. As with many LCD screens, viewing is best if done straight on. However, the prospect of 3D pictures of teeth or radiographs is an exciting one.

Another development is in disk storage. Many offices now use CD-ROMs for backup storage. These have a limit of about

700 MB. Others have begun to use writable DVDs, which have increased the capacity to over

4 GB. A company called InPhase Technologies is now working on an amazing system using holograms for storage. Their new technique, called Tapestry, will allow 100GB to be stored on one CD-style disk. This company believes that as they develop this technique, the storage per disk can increase to 1.3 terabytes!

Why would anyone need such massive storage? As we become more digitally advanced, and patient records and images increase, this technology will allow an unlimited size to these documents. New cameras, such as the Canon D60, generate 6 megapixel images that can take up a lot of space. Since we have some limits on storage today, we sometimes tend to compress these for ultimate storage. (Of course, the visual differences are minimal unless you are Dr. Bill Domb, Dr. Tom Hedge, or Dr. Tony Soileau). In addition, as we push to get fully digital records, large files such as voice or video notes will not present a size problem.

Finally, a product from E Ink will perhaps change the computer monitor. This company has taken a flexible, clear plastic material and sandwiched an electric liquid between two sheets. With some electronic wizardry, images and text appear in this film, which can be cut into any shape or size. It is quite flexible and thin, which allows it to be rolled up for easy storage. The initial applications are for PDAs and cell phones, as well as "e-books." In this case, a page of text is loaded into the "monitor" and can be changed as you electronically turn the pages. Since they are extremely small, light, and very durable, we can expect them to replace monitors in the treatment area in the near future. This is part of an ongoing project by Xerox, 3M and Phillips called "gyricon" or "oleds." (A Web search on these words can give you more technical information).

Along with this "electronic paper" is the "Tablet PC." This is a cross between a Palm unit and a laptop. Basically, you have a fully operational computer about the size and thickness of a legal notepad. Entries are made with a stylus. As handwriting recognition improves, the keyboard will be a thing of the past.

As offices advance technologically, doctors should continue dedicating a portion of their annual budgets for the latest and most efficient equipment. Unfortunately, as we have learned, the day you buy new equipment is the day the new, improved version makes its debut! With this in mind, keep an open, flexible design in your offices. You do not want to punch holes in walls every time a new item arrives, or spend a lot of energy tearing out an old one.

New innovations are appearing daily, and I expect to report on them in future issues. Stay tuned!

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers when he placed a system in his office in 1978, and he has been fascinated by technology ever since. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions in New England, including annual appearances at the Yankee.Dental Congress, and has been a part of the ADA's Technology Day since its inception. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersinden tistry.com) and can be reached by email at drpaul@computersindentistry.com.

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