The iPad is one step closer to becoming a fixture in hospitals someday with the announcement of Feather, the first medical cart designed specifically to support Apple's tablet computer.

Modo, the Oregon-based company that designed Feather, reckons iPads have a bright prognosis as the health care industry upgrades computer workstations and further adopts electronic recordkeeping.

"We think [the iPad is] a great way to integrate new technology into hospitals that’s friendly, easily approachable and cost effective," said Goo Sung, the design manager at Modo.

The lightweight aluminum cart features a thin, flat work area with a central pivoting arm that connects to a mount for the iPad.

This arm allows physicians, nurses and patients to orient an iPad in almost any direction to view or enter clinical information, for example.

Key to this flexibility is the fact that unlike converted desktop computers, the iPad does not have to have power cords sticking into it while offering a battery life of up to ten hours.

Modo began creating Feather less than two weeks after the iPad came out in April. With its small form factor and appealing touch screen, "we knew from the get-go that [Apple] would sell a lot of iPads," said Sung.

Among other attributes, such as a plethora of health care apps, it is the iPad's compactness that makes it so appealing in a health care setting, Sung explained.

Standard point-of-care computer systems, or "COWs" (Computers On Wheels) that nurses shuttle about hospitals today can weigh up to 80 pounds (36 kilograms), Sung said. These units typically consist of an embedded computer system unit including a monitor, a keyboard, a power supply and cables.

In the end, "you have this Frankenstein-ish cart that’s very big and very sophisticated but very expensive," Sung said. His company has heard complaints about the lack of ergonomics as well as the cost of these setups.

Opting for a reasonably inexpensive, 1.5-pound (0.68 kilogram) iPad with a 9.7 inch- (24.6 centimeter-) screen eliminates many of the weight and space issues with traditional mobile computing workstations, Sung said.

All told, the Feather cart equipped with an iPad and a Bluetooth-enabled remote keyboard weighs in at around 20 pounds (nine kilograms) – a quarter of the bulk of today's point-of-care computer systems.

The Feather also has a cubby pocket at its rear for storing an iPad power converter or other cables, and a coffee cup that magnetically attaches to the work platform can hold a beverage or objects such as keys.

The Feather is slated to go on sale by early 2011. The retail price will be set by brands such as Steelcase that will sell the product directly to hospitals, but Sung said that the Feather will sell for much less than other medical carts.

With an eye toward the ongoing surge in tablet computer product introductions sparked by the iPad, Modo wisely made it so the Feather can be modified to hold other small, flat portable computers such as the Dell Streak that is being pitched to doctors.

Apple's aesthetic penchant for simplicity with a touch of sleekness, however, did inspire the overall design of the Feather, Sung noted, saying that "if Apple designed the cart, [this is] what it would look like."

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