LITTLE larger than a standard photocopier, the Helios Laser Imaging System looks disarmingly simple - an off-white box with a few vents and an out-tray attached to one end.
But inside the imager is $50,000-worth of fine-tuned electronics which produces strikingly sharp black and white transparencies in 90 seconds when hooked up to an ultrasound scanner or other medical diagnostic system.
Using a combination of laser beam and carbon-based film, Helios turns out dry images that can be duplicated or put in positive or negative form at the flick of a switch. No need for darkrooms, chemicals, or lengthy developing.
As state governments and the Environmental Protection Agency become more stringent about hazardous waste, imagers like Helios will grow in demand, suggests Leonard Aberbach, president of Polaroid's Medical Imaging Systems. Even the negative is reclaimed and recycled.
After seven years of research and development, the first Helios systems were shipped last month. "We've never taken on an activity of this sophistication in software capability," Dr. Aberbach explains. But the technology has broad applications beyond medical ones and should boost prospects for Polaroid, he says.