Video doctor

A new antenna system can soon become a lifesaver for travellers taken ill

Published: Friday 30 April 1999

people taken ill on aircraft or ships will soon be able to get expert treatment with help of a telemedicine system based on video conferencing technology and developed by a joint European and us team led by Alenia Aerospazio of Italy.

Until now, doctors could communicate with crews only by radio, giving them instructions based on symptoms described to them, and then keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for the best. Now, a European Commission multimedia project, called acts Broadband Aeronautical Terminal Experiment ( abate ), has demonstrated that aircraft can send live video footage of patients, allowing ground-based doctors to make more accurate diagnoses. They can then show the aircraft crew how exactly to treat the patients. At least one member of the crew has to be trained in the use of this new technology.

The secret of the abate system is a swivelling antenna mounted on the aircraft that constantly tracks the position of a satellite to make sure that the critical communications link is not lost as a plane or ship changes course. The antenna maintains its track by continually maximising the power received from the satellite.

" abate appears to be a breakthrough in an area in which the practical delivery of broadband communication has been very difficult," says Richard McNeely of Arizona Telemedicine Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, usa .

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