The Acuson Corporation was founded at Mountain View, California in 1979 by Dr. Samual H. Maslak and former Hewlett-Packard engineers Robert Younge and Amin Hanafy. Samuel Maslak was born in 1948 and grow up in Suitland, Maryland. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving the the degrees of E.E., S.M. and S.B. in electrical engineering in 1971 and the degree of Doctor of Science in 1975.

Maslak became interested in ultrasound in the early Seventies when he was doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At that time his wife was pregnant with their second child and doctors had ordered an examination of the fetus using ultrasound to test for intrauterine growth restriction. His daughter turned out to be fine, but Maslak saw that the existing technology was relatively crude, which sparked his interest. He recognized that ultrasound had the potential to give doctors a tremendous amount of information about the body noninvasively. Maslak thus found a subject for his dissertation -- and the making of a $300-million company.

After M. I. T., Maslak moved to California to work on ultrasound projects for Hewlett-Packard, where he was a member of the technical staff and project manager at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories. While at Hewlett-Packard, Maslak invented a unique scanner architecture and beam-forming agorithm which were subsequently patented and assigned to Hewlett-Packard. Although his achievements were much recognized by the firm, H P did not want to press ahead with additional improvements, probably because the company was occupying a very small market share in ultrasound at that time. Maslak nevertheless thought much greater advances could be made. He left the company in December 1978, but continued to investigate ultrasound technology and the potential market for innovative products. He supported himself through a part-time job as a circuit design consultant, as well as from savings and by pulling equity from his home.

After nine months on his own, Maslak formed a general partnership with Robert Younge, a colleague at Hewlett-Packard, in September 1979; another engineer, Amin Hanafy, came on board in 1981. Maslak has said that, rather than aiming at an immediate market introduction, the three spent much of their time thinking about how they could contribute to the industry's development. During this period they obtained $100,000 in seed money from Karl Johannsmeier, an entrepreneur. In late 1981, the three partners submitted a business plan to several venture capital firms. All wanted to invest in the company, but the partners decided that, besides Johannsmeier, they would limit their outside investors to the firm of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers of Palo Alto. The partners got $2.5-million initially from them, and the firm raised another $22-million for Acuson over the next three years. The partners filed incorporation papers in 1982, and the company became listed in 1986, raising $21-million in an initial public offering. Describing industry conditions when Acuson's machines were first introduced in 1983, Business Week observed that "the market is nearly saturated, and sales have started to slip." Beginning operations in this environment, Acuson increased its sales from $3-million in 1983 to $18-million in 1984; in the next four years, revenues rose 60% or more annually, reaching $169-million by 1988.

Acuson introduced its first product, the Acuson 128 Computed Sonography System, in 1983. Developed at a time when ultrasound was thought already to have reached its peak, the 128 system garnered both astonishment and praise from the medical ultrasound community. Acuson quickly earned a reputation for providing physicians with "Gold Standard" ultrasound image quality and system performance. Large volume of sales was acheived for many years despite a hefty pricetag of some $200,000 per unit.

The Acuson 128 system started what the company called "Computed Sonography technology" for ultrasound scanners. Beam-formers and other operations were software driven. Software control allows for more complicated and precise operations as well as making the system more flexible and upgradable. This however require heavy programming from software engineers over a long period of time. Very fast computers were also the pre-requisite. Since the 1980s, many millitary and aviational devices were software driven and some systems require the input of over 300 software engineers and programmers working over a period of one to two years. The Acuson machines were in a way ahead of it's peers at that time.

The system also accomplished digital, broad bandwidth beamforming, and relied on advanced proprietory broad bandwidth scanhead technologies. Acuson scanheads are characterized by the breadth of the bandwidth of ultrasonic signals which are transmitted and received. The system used 128-electronically independent channels which provide exclusive spatial resolution, tissue contrast and image uniformity in all field of view. The 128 system also tried to optimise subtle signals returning from the body to account for the proper shaping of the acoustic spectrum, taking into consideration transduser response, tissue attenuation and user-selected parameters such as depth, preprocessing options and operating frequency. A portion of 2-D image can be zoomed in and viewed in real-time. The resolution is actually increased because the system adds more lines-both horizontal and vertical-of ultrasound data to the expanded area. MultiHertz technology extended the usefullness of a single transduscer by enabling it to operate at multiple independent imaging frequencies. This capability provided better resolution at higher frequencies.

One of the main difficulties associated with multiplexer or switching network delay control was the noise injected into the signal when the system changed delays. As a result, expensive, high quality, low noise delay lines and multiplexers were needed in the scanner to produce high quality images. Also, for effective dynamic focusing the delay resolution on every channel must be a small fraction of the ultrasound carrier period. This meant delay lines contained many (hundreds) of taps that complicated manufacture. The cost of these high precision, high bandwidth, analog components made large channel count systems prohibitive. In 1979, Maslak (then at Hewlett Packard), patented a method for dynamic delays without changing delay taps. By heterodyning the RF signal from each channel to an intermediate frequency, a phase manipulating circuit could perform fine delay changes while a coarse delay line held a large constant delay. In this way, the imaging system created multiple receive foci without expensive ultra-low noise delay lines.

In the area of digital Beamforming on receive, many scanners in the late 1980s used the system and algorithm proposed by Maslak for the implementation of dynamic delay changes. Due to the high precision and low noise of these digital beamformers, images of superior quality are possible. In addition, many advanced functions can be added to the imager using digital signal processing hardware to generate high quality spectral Doppler, color flow, and power Doppler measurements, or to perform phase aberration correction. In addition to generating high-quality, steerable, and dynamically focused receive beams, many state-of-the-art machines are also capable of generating more than one receive beam at once. Recent patents by Maslak proposes four simultaneous receive beams for every transmit firing. This improves the frame rate of the imager for color flow or Doppler imaging or during multi-zone imaging that involves multiple transmit firings down a particular line with different foci each time. At the same time, the four beam system on transmit proposed by Maslak is capable of generating any arbitrary pulse waveform on every channel independently. As beamforming circuits become more refined and VLSI fabrication technology achieves smaller feature sizes, multi-beam receive methods have become common.

The emphasis on computer technology was also essential to the second key factor in Acuson's success: "field upgradability." Every unit that Acuson has ever sold can be upgraded -- at the customer's site -- to the level of the most advanced current model, simply by adding new software. At first glance, complete upgradeability would appear to act as a drag on sales of new machines. But since doctors continued to find new applications in which Acuson's products outperformed those of competitors, sales of new units continued to rise in the 1980s. Early on, Acuson established an international presence. The company initially set up operations in the United Kingdom and Germany. Wholly owned sales and service subsidiaries followed in Sweden and Australia in 1986, and in Canada and France in 1987. The company also began to make significant shipments to China and opened up other Asian markets. By 1989, 18% of Acuson's sales came from international operations, which came to over $40-million, up 68% from the prior year.

Nelson Wright joined Acuson Corporation in 1981, where he co-invented and led the development of the beamformer for the Acuson 128. He was later responsible for Acuson's Sequoia Program, chartered to develop a new generation imaging technology for diagnostic ultrasound. In this capacity he was responsible for conceptualizing a new imaging architecture. Hugh Larsen joined Acuson in 1983 and led several critical development programs for the Acuson 128 ultrasound system. Subsequently, he was a core member of the small R & D management team that developed the Acuson 128XP, a new platform that in 1990 superceded the Acuson 128. Later on Hugh joined the Sequoia Program as Director of Imaging Technology, where he created the clinical development framework. Chris Cole joined Acuson in 1988 to work on the Sequoia ultrasound program. He made fundamental contributions to system analysis, architectural and signal processing definition, and circuit design. He went on to manage many aspects of Sequoia product development and transfer to manufacturing. After the first product introduction in 1996, Cole worked on the architectural and signal processing definition of next generation Sequoia systems.

In late 1985, Acuson began to ship its Doppler option, which measured the velocity of blood flow in the heart and major arteries. In September 1987, Acuson shipped its first color Doppler imaging system, an important diagnostic tool for physicians since it allowed them to visualize directly the flow of blood, depicted as a color overlay on the standard black and white ultrasound image.

The 128 Computed Sonography system and the Sequoia system have become part of collections maintained by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Samuel Maslak holds over 40 patents and has been named as one of Healthweek's top 25 innovators (August 1989). Maslak has received numerous accolades, including being honored as: CEO of the Entrepreneurial Company of the Year at the 13th Annual Awards presented by the Stanford Business School Alumni Association; San Francisco Bay Area Entrepreneur of the Year (July 1989); one of Business Week's "CEO's of 1000 Top Companies" (1991), as well as holder of the Joseph H. Holmes Pioneer Award for Basic Science presented by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine in 2002. In 2005, he was honored with the prestigious Ian Donald Award for Technical Merit from the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

* image from a paper "Ultrasound Evaluation of the Normal fetal Upper Airway and Esopahgus" by Cooper C., Mahony B.S., Bowie J.D. et al. Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine, 4:343, 1985.

Part of the information contained above was excerpted from the Look Smart

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