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My Penguin, The Doctor

The Most Mission-Critical Application. Ever.

  • June 8, 2006
  • By Rob Reilly

Many people in the Linux community know that its an operating system built to handle the most mission-critical of jobs. In fact, Linux is so stable, it can handle the most mission-critical job of all: managing the human heart.

About the size of a small suitcase, the Merlin Patient Care System, contains a motherboard, a medical grade power supply, a thermal chart recorder, and a telemetry wand head. The machine is used to program St. Jude Medical's implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and pace-makers.

The machine uses a current Linux kernel with enhancements to speed up the boot time.

Marinda Gansmoe, IBM Technology Collaboration Solutions (TCS) group spokesman said that the St. Jude Medical Center, brought them in to help develop the machine. Although available worldwide, the system is used primarily in U.S. medical facilities.

ICDs and pace-makers are tiny computer instruments that stimulate and regulate a patient's heartbeat. The roughly one inch diameter wonders watch for unusual beat patterns and then send very small electrical signals directly into the heart, thus maintaining the correct heart rate. In addition to the sophisticated computing technology inside, the tiny implant's housings are made of exotic, laser welded titanium material and sport batteries that run from five to eight years.

Since the heart devices are implanted, programming is done via a telemetry wand that is placed on the chest near the patient's heart device. Data is exchanged wirelessly with the implant and the Merlin system. The St. Jude implants are specifically programmed with the Merlin system.

Other companies in the implant management business include ELA Medical, Medico, and Medtronic.

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