Hopkins maps brain in computerized atlasTalk about...


Hopkins maps brain in computerized atlas

Talk about a heady project.

Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University are assembling a computerized atlas of the brain that is a mother lode of information for neurosurgeons and others with a keen interest in gray matter. It may also be a mother lode for Hopkins, which is hoping to sell its electronic atlas worldwide.

Known as BrainMap, the goal of the ongoing project is to assemble a sophisticated data base of information about the brain, culled from data based on live and cadaver material, including a library of 3-D images of the brain's anatomy.

Those images can be manipulated a number of ways to give researchers a peek inside the brain.

Nick Bryan, director of neuroradiology at Johns Hopkins, said neurosurgeons there have been using BrainMap during live procedures for about six months now. Working off computers located in the operating room, surgeons enter data about patients, then wait for BrainMap's computer analysis -- which takes only moments.

"BrainMap lets us identify structures in patients we can't see in images," said Dr. Bryan, one of many researchers who has been involved in the BrainMap project over the years. "It can be used to localize abnormalities, or to direct surgical procedures or biopsies."

According to Dr. Bryan, the project began several years ago with the simple but enormously time-consuming task of transferring the "Co-Planar Stereotaxic Atlas of the Human Brain," the bible of the neurosurgical community, to an electronic format.

Researchers later expanded the data base to include other published material as well as ongoing research data about the brain, arguably one of Mother Nature's most complicated and confounding creations.

The data base is constantly updated and revised by the medical researchers and surgeons who use it, making BrainMap, according to Hopkins, the world's most complete data base of information about the human brain.

The school has obtained a patent for BrainMap and, according to Dr. Bryan, is talking with a Canadian company about the possibility of selling the software program worldwide.

Computerized crane comes with joystick

It only looks like a Tonka Toy on steroids.

Dubbed the "spider crane" because of its unusual shape -- an octahedron -- this new-age crane can lift, bend and maneuver with ease. Loads of two tons or more can be rigidly constrained and moved around in six directions, the result of a computer-powered muscle center that nets together six cables and six winches.

Conventional cranes, by comparison, are usually only good for one thing -- picking up heavy objects and moving them from one place to another.

"We wanted to turn the crane from a device that could simply dangle objects on the end of a cable into a device that the operator could use to actually manipulate large objects in the way that a robot manipulates smaller objects," said James Albus, chief of the robot systems division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, which developed the crane.

The crane can be made so operators either sit on the crane or operate it remotely by using a joystick, the "kind you use with a Nintendo toy," Mr. Albus said of his creation, which can be scaled up to accommodate loads of 20 tons.

Mr. Albus said the spider crane won't ever be a replacement for conventional cranes, which are much better suited for tasks that require brute strength.

NIST, which has been working on its spider crane concept for a few years, has been talking with manufacturers about commercially producing its invention.

But first a few details have to be worked out. Like what to call it.

According to Mr. Albus, NIST lawyers recently told the agency not to call it a "spider" crane because the name is already taken. Another suggested name, Robo- Spider, was also nixed by lawyers for the same reason.

"Now we just call it the 'NIST robot crane,' " Mr. Albus said. "That's not as sexy as 'spider,' but that's what they told us we should call it." When Hurricane Andrew headed toward Miami, so did American Telephone & Telegraph Co.

The company dispatched a convoy of armored trucks to Andrew's expected target in south Florida. The trucks carried enough equipment in their bulletproof, aluminum alloy hulls to provide emergency long-distance service to a city of 200,000, said Jim McGann, an AT&T; spokesman.

The trucks carried emergency crews, portable power generators and telephone transmission equipment. The 18-wheelers, which were used during the rampage by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, are built so they can be easily pulled next to a manhole, where critical telephone connections are located.

The emergency units, designed to AT&T;'s specifications, can be broken down -- truck bed and all -- and shipped by rail, air or truck to ensure that they get to where they have to go within 16 hours, Mr. McGann said.

Fortunately, Andrew didn't disturb telephone service, so the trucks didn't have to be used.

At the height of Andrew, long-distance calling on AT&T; totaled 172.1 million calls, marking AT&T;'s second-busiest day ever.

AT&T;'s busiest day , for trivia buffs, occurred in June during the airfare war. Volume: 176 million calls. On an average day, AT&T; handles about 140 million calls.

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