A Nurse Call System Becomes Turing Complete

George Mallory, a famous English mountaineer, once suggested that it was of no use to climb mountains. Instead, he posited, the only reason to climb a mountain is because it is there. Likewise, when you become an expert in nurse call systems like those found in hospitals, you may find that you do things with them that are of similar use. Making a Turing-complete nurse call system is something you do because you can.

[Erik] has been working on this particular call system, known as Netrix, and used Wireshark to sniff out all of its protocols. With this information he realized that it would be possible to use the system’s routing features to perform all of the tasks that any Turing complete system can do: conditional branching and memory access. He set up a virtual machine and set about implementing all of these tasks using the nurse call system’s features.

The setup for this project is impressive, and belies an extensive knowledge of this one proprietary system but also of computer science in general. It’s interesting to see how something can be formed into a working computer system from parts that otherwise might not be used that way. Even things that aren’t electronic can be used as Turing-complete computers.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

3 thoughts on “A Nurse Call System Becomes Turing Complete

  1. Could you do this with a cable TV remote? They get more complicated all the time.
    Symbolic labels for so called universal understanding annoy me. Mixing them up with words is even worse. Symbols for bygone things like glass bulbs and floppies are one thing, but no toilet bowl symbol or Mr. Poo for when you gotta go. Those things never change. Visualizing pain, yuck. Words, yes.

    1. The general(Hideous) trend in design is monochrome flat icons for everything that change frequently. And they’re even getting rid of floppies and light bulbs in favor of things that symbolize the action itself without referencing obsolete technology(Despite the fact that people who have never seen a floppy still know them as “the save icon”).

      It’s awful just like most aggressively implemented minimalism(In general and especially in tech).

  2. Even Magic the Gathering is Turing-Complete…

    Which combines with another rule – if you enter a forced infinite loop, then the game is tied. You could set up a game that ends if and only if the twin primes conjecture is true.

    Except the finite register machine would take several years of turns to just _write the program_.

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