For three days after the September 11 event in New York, the FAA grounded commercial air transport. Ten years on, this decision alone has had a profound impact on my part of the electronic document industry. In those three days, millions of sheets of printed documents did not get to where they needed to be. Checks did not get to banks, contracts were not completed, medical records did not get to doctors. What followed was a whole raft of legislation that gave a huge boost to the “paperless office”.
Check clearing got the highest priority – CHECK 21 became law on the 28th October 2004. Now an electronic image of a check is good enough “replacement” for the real thing.
In 2009 the senate finally approved an $800 billion stimulus bill to put every American’s health record online. The politicians took great care over privacy issues and, now that screens and color printers are so cheap and excellent, there has even been an amount of goodwill from the medical professionals.
We provide a lot of the “glue” that transforms electronic documents and helps migrate legacy printer data to electronic medical record formats so it was no surprise to get a call from Zeiss with a interesting challenge. Some of the equipment made for the ophthalmology industry could not produce an electronic document, all it could do was print!
“Surely a software upgrade and perhaps a TCP/IP hardware interface would be good enough? “ “No – you don’t understand – If we change anything it has to go back through the very expensive TYPE APPROVAL procedure”.
It turns out that the world is full of “black box” devices in medical and industrial applications that can only print. Sometimes the law or security prohibits any attachment to a network. (nobody wants a “virus” on an ophthalmic lance) – The concept of Virtual Printer hardware was born.
The principle is easy enough. Build a small piece of hardware that just looks like the same old printer to the “black box”. A powerful microprocessor handles the printer interface – we used a MICROCHIP PIC 16 device. Data is collected on a USB connection to a PC controlled using an FTDI package. The device gets its power from the USB interface avoiding the need for a special power supply.
Of course data collection is only half the story. Processing the collected printer data is the work of RedTitan EscapeE. You can even recover data straight off the printed page for re-processing, filing or even patient identification.
Now, six years on, many thousand of these devices have been rolled out in data capture applications. The chances are that, the next time you take an eye test, you will find the RedTitan PRINT2PC box doing its job in the back of a Zeiss Humphrey Field Analyser.
Today there are two models of PRINT2PC – PARALLEL PORT to USB and USB to USB taking care of every thing from Pacemaker Programmers through to Blood Analysis controllers. There is even a bowling alley on an island in northern Germany that owes its scoring system to PRINT2PC; a strange consequence of the sad events of ten years ago.