Support Devices (RSD) and its predecessor companies owe their
specialty of duplicating the human body to the fact that a
former wife of the founder of these companies, Samuel W.
Alderson, was always late for appointments. One evening,
late in World War II, one of her friends came over for dinner,
and Mr. Alderson chatted with her pending the arrival of his
wife.The friend was depressed by working in an amputee center,
and she bemoaned the poor arm prostheses being fitted to the
At that time Mr. Alderson was working at the Bell Telephone Laboratories on the first missile-guidance system, which contained powerful, miniature permanent-magnet motors. He wondered why such motors could not be used to power improved arm prostheses. He began to explore this possibility at the same time that IBM, which had promised to President Roosevelt that they would turn their technology to the improvement of artificial arms, was looking around for a project engineer for this task. Mr. Alderson was recommended to IBM for this post and was hired by IBM to head a special laboratory to pursue this development.
By 1952 Mr. Alderson had developed an arm with which an amputee with no stump could perform many tasks, using toe controls. He then went on to controls using the skin currents that accompany the contraction of muscles which had previously powered lost arms. Unfortunately, the electronics could not be miniaturized enough at that time, so the project was put on hold until technology caught up with its requirements. IBM then helped Mr. Alderson establish his own company to bring the electric arm to a plateau until such time as further development could be undertaken.
As a result of this experience in duplicating the human body, his new company entered this field more broadly, pioneering dummies for testing military-aircraft ejection-seats. His company then received a contract from a major aircraft company to develop special dummies to test the survivability of the Command Module of Project Apollo. The contract became more complicated when it was found that the Command Module could not be relied upon to survive a ground landing, and its work statement had to be changed to permit a splash-down landing. The complications caused by this program led to insolvency of the company. Mr. Alderson then moved to California, where he had grown up, and started Humanetics Inc., devoted to the further development and manufacture of crash-test dummies for auto safety and to a phantom (a medical term for
a dummy) which was the first such device to guide radiation treatments for cancer by measuring the dose that would be delivered to a patient, as determined in a corresponding phantom.The Alderson RANDO phantom, and its successor the
Alderson ART phantom, have become worldwide standards and are used in nearly every radiation therapy clinic in the world.
Humanetics was sold to a British company, but Mr. Alderson bought back the radiation part of the business and proceeded to develop PIXY, which is virtually an American standard for training radiologic technologists in taking x-rays. The new company, Radiology Support Devices (RSD), took over from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories the production of a phantom to calibrate in-vivo counters to determine the amount and nature of radioactive particles absorbed in the bodies of nuclear workers. Today RSD is known as the world leader in the development of phantoms for Diagnostic Radiology, Radiation Therapy, Nuclear Medicine, and Health Physics.