HP's webOS platform may find new life as an open source operating system for healthcare applications. Researchers at Stanford University have developed applications for the HP TouchPad tablet, a discontinued webOS device, to operate an interventional MRI scanner and view patient respiration data and images gathered from the device.
Andrew B. Holbrook, a research associate at Stanford's Department of Radiology, developed an application for the TouchPad to control the MRI's operations by interfacing with a PC server located outside the MRI room. Computers currently used to control MRI machines are cumbersome, requiring special construction to reduce their amount of metallic components which pose a safety risk.
The TouchPad has multiple features useful for healthcare applications: its mostly plastic construction is ideal for being used near the MRI's magnetized chamber (any metal components found within the tablet, such as a vibration motor and speakers, can be removed while keeping the device functional), and webOS's multitasking support allows users to quickly switch between multiple applications.
HP announced in early December that the webOS platform would become open source, allowing developers to take over primary development of the OS and customize it to their needs. Holbrook has already ported one of his apps, a respiratory monitoring device, to a webOS smartphone. He plans to continue to use the TouchPad in clinical trials at Standford this year, and develop more MRI applications for the webOS platform.
The TouchPad was one of the consumer tech industry's biggest flops of 2011. After multiple delays, the $499 device was released in July to poor sales. In August, less than two months after its release, HP announced as part of a wider company restructuring that it would discontinue development of the TouchPad and any other hardware running webOS, which it acquired from Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010. Remaining TouchPad stock was then sold at a huge discount (Holbrook purchased multiple devices from such sales for his research).
WebOS never took off as a medical apps platform, with some app developers seeing the writing on the wall as early as December of 2010: Epocrates sent an email to users of its webOS app users at the time that it planned to no longer support Palm’s webOS platform. By May, Epocrates said the app wouldn’t open or function so users ought to get used to the mobile optimized web app or switch to Android or iOS devices. WebOS's commercial failure, due in part to a rushed production schedule, is also the subject of a New York Times article published today.
Read the webOS Developer Center article here.