I used to donate blood quite often. Even when I wasn’t, though, I was always getting poked, prodded, and bled by various physicians. I have a keen understanding of how much fun it is when the phlebotomist can’t find the vein, or the vein collapses, or ‘rolls’ under the needle.

It ain’t fun.

But the folks at Luminetx have developed the VeinViewer, an absolutely nifty system that lets a doctor see the veins under your skin. This is a very cool application of infrared photography and digital imaging. This is how it works:

An infrared light source illuminates the site you are interested in viewing. The infrared wavelengths are differentially absorbed by the tissue. That is, tissue reflects the IR, while the blood within a vein absorbs it. The reflected IR signal is captured by a digital camera and immediately analyzed. The resulting IR image is converted to visible light and projected back onto the surface of the site of interest with exact registration, and in real time.

The result: A projected image of the blood vessels beneath the skin, in real time. Time magazine named the VeinViewer the “coolest invention of the year” in 2004.

Here’s a still image:

and here’s a video clip:

Is that cool, or what?