Embedded Medical Innovations

In embedded solutions for the medical industry, many see the grandest promises of technology fulfilled. For example, remote monitoring will allow patients to stay home while blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs are logged and sent to their physicians. Matthias Huber, director of Kontron’s Medical Vertical Market Division, points out that remote monitoring will be a growing market segment as new applications and standards are developed around the ambient assisted-living and personalhealth sectors. Right now, however, imaging and diagnostics are driving growth in the medical market for embedded computers.

Figure: The new MediClient Panel PC has a 10.4-in. SVGA touch display. It is completely fanless with a sealed front (IP65) so that it can be easily cleaned for use in sanitized areas.

For image processing, compute power is essential. According to Huber, processing power for imaging algorithms and color-reproduction quality dominate over 3D graphic engines. High resolution and color depth are both needed in imaging, as medical practitioners demand enhanced images to get better information for diagnostics or surgery. According to Kontron, the CompactPCI and μTCA platforms are ideal for high-end imaging. Among the company’s standard imaging products is the MediClient PanelPC/human machine interface (HMI). This EN 60601-1-compliant device, which is essentially a PC behind a liquid-crystal display (LCD), boasts an analog resistive touchscreen (see Figure 1). Its central processing unit (CPU) is scalable to the 1-GHz Intel® Celeron® M processor.

Video recording is a growing application in the embedded medical market, as entire sessions or segments of operations are increasingly being recorded in very-high-resolution video. According to Huber, future operating rooms may only need a trained surgeon on site, as a specialist could remotely guide that surgeon from anywhere using high-resolution video. Kontron’s semi-custom system is the 17-in. Medical Multimedia HMI for image and video capture. It features an IP65 front, two PCI slots, and a secondary VGA.

3D imaging requires quite massive CPU power. Two 6U CompactPCI blades—the CP6012 and the new CP6014—feature Intel® Xeon® processors to address the need for highly compact compute power in a small mechanical footprint. In a real-life application of 3D ultrasound, a seven-node cluster reduced the image processing time from half a day to one hour. Huber states, “With new blades based on next-generation Intel Xeon processors using 32-nm technology, it will be possible to further increase the CPU density while remaining in the same mechanical and thermal footprint.”

Compared to imaging applications, mobile devices for medical applications have the highest volume while demanding the lowest wattage. For units carried by patients or medical practitioners, the Intel® Atom™ processor based on 45-nm technology provides the best balance between performance and power consumption. Huber notes, “Compared to multicore, the Intel Atom processor suits portable and battery-powered applications. The low power consumption allows for a range of applications that have not embraced the PC architecture so far.”

Kontron makes numerous small-form-factor computer-on-modules (COMs) that are well suited for handheld ultrasound and other compact or portable applications.

Currently, one of Kontron’s COM boards, based on the Intel® Pentium® M processor series, serves as the core engine for a solution for individuals who are speech-impaired. This rugged “speech-reproduction” device can be carried or mounted to the side of a wheelchair. Other applications are in the area of patient care with devices that ensure that the correct dosage and usage of medication is provided for patients. Going forward, the medical market is calling for palm-sized computers with touchscreens that can be held and operated with one hand. Such devices are now possible, thanks to the performance of Intel Atom processors.

Ellen Konieczny is a freelance writer who has extensive experience creating manuals and other technical documents for companies. She can be reached at ellen.konieczny@gmail.com.