COM Express® Modules Boost Improvements in Ultrasound Technology

Increased processing power and graphics performance in small form factor modules drives imaging advances and increased mobility in ultrasound devices.

Among the most valuable developments in today’s medical technology is the new generation of ultrasound imaging devices. Improving medical imaging quality has long been a priority for technologists whose goal is enabling more accurate diagnosis through more detailed visualization.

New advances in sensor technology and image processing include devices that generate 3D images that approach the detail and resolution of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), enabling doctors to distinguish between malignant and benign tumors, for example. Fully portable, wireless-enabled ultrasound stations have come online that make it possible for ultrasound devices to move out of the hospital and into home-care telehealth systems.

Figure 1: ADLINK offers a large selection of COM Express products in the most widely applied form factors, including (top to bottom ) the Express-KL, cExpress-AL, and nanoX-AL modules. As a Premier Member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance, ADLINK is in close collaboration with Intel in developing the latest technologies and ideally positioned to ensure its COM Express solution take full advantage of Intel’s newest design enhancements.

These imaging advances have been made possible largely by the continuing development of high-performance central and graph ics processing units (GPUs). Yet simply ramping up processing power is not enough. Sophisticated software optimizations are also needed to help process raw sensor data and render images. An ultrasound device capable of producing clear, detailed images within a useful timeframe thus requires not only a great deal of processing power, but also carefully engineered software that takes maximum advantage of the system’s hardware acceleration.

High Definition Video Enables the Digital Operating Room

Powerful, real-time images (Figure A) enable better and more informed treatment decisions during medical procedures such as X-ray, ultrasound, and endoscopy. Contemporary operating room (OR) environments incorporate high-resolution video technology that delivers these highly detailed, low-latency video images.

Critical video data may come from a range of devices presenting data in different formats such as DVI, CVBS, and RGB, requiring fast and efficient normalization of the various formats. Digital OR systems not only integrate the varied video inputs and displays, but also record the collected data for future reference.

Enhancing Care with Efficient Mobile Nursing Workstations

Figure B

Figure A

Mobile nursing workstations bring care and safety directly to patients (Figure B). They enable efficient, personalized care in any setting required by a busy clinical environment. Care providers can view electronic medical records (EMR), medication data, and administrative documents, as well as enter data and connect to data centers for real-time information sharing. ADLINK’s COM Express modules enable these portable workstations, incorporating multiple types of data entry interfaces and remote diagnosis capabilities. The resulting improved workflow minimizes time spent on patient administration. Integrated functionality such as wireless connectivity and secure access to patient records dramatically increases the level of patient care. These workstations help to ensure that the right dosage is given to the right patient at the right time.


Quality, Mobility and Maintainability
While recent advances in computing power—particularly with respect to image processing—have resulted in greater potential for ultrasound solutions, the challenge that device manufacturers face is integrating these capabilities into a design that not only improves the image quality, but also improves the mobility and maintainability of the device.

Software Development and Optimization
Processing ultrasound data is computationally intensive, and with the increased variety of sensors and transducers in today’s devices, the processing time needed to render advanced imagery has increased drastically. For instance, with a display resolution upgrade from 2K1K 60Hz to 4K2K 60Hz, graphical content is doubled. The processor must handle that 50% increase in content without an increase in processing time. Consequently, modern ultrasound stations make extensive use of software optimization to maximize processors’ advantages.

Low Power Profile
Ultrasound stations are increasingly mobile and must be sealed against moisture and dust, both to make them easy to sterilize and to protect their internal components. These requirements further push devices to apply mobile power sources and passive cooling designs, which in turn demand the lowest possible power and heat profiles, making low power consumption and thermal design power (TDP) a top priority.

Extensive I/O Options
For the sake of compatibility, processing speed, and ease of development, the bandwidth and stability of input/output channels available is a key consideration. Whereas two years ago an application might only require 3Gb/s SATA, today’s technology improvements can double bandwidth requirements to 6 Gb/s SATA. In addition, communication between host (e.g., CPU) and client (e.g., sensor or transducer) requires a stable connection for continuous data transfer.

COM Express Modules: Full Functionality and Wide Range
Seeking a wide variety of application-specific functions in an assortment power, heat, and processing profiles, embedded system developers are increasingly turning to high-performance COM Express modules to supply the computing core of their systems. For ultrasound imaging products, COM-based solutions offer the full power of PC functionality in compact, standardized modules.

Ultrasound device manufacturers need a COM Express solution in form factors that provide ample I/O options while allowing the quick and effective application of the processing, thermal, and graphical advances of today’s CPUs and GPUs. The minimum I/O demand for such an application would include PCIex8, which can be used to insert an external GPU card; Gigabit Ethernet to send data between computers; two SATA for storage; four USB ports to connect to a touch screen, keyboard and mouse and/or USB stick; and at least three PCIe lanes to connect to the FPGA on the carrier board or Wi-Fi+Bluetooth card.

One company collaborating with Intel® to offer COM Express boards that make efficient use of Intel’s product advancements is ADLINK.

ADLINK’s COM Express® boards feature high-performance Intel processors with chipsets that support up to three independent, high-definition displays; up to 32 GB of memory and PCI Express expansion as well as a full array of I/O interfaces including SATA, USB, and Gigabit Ethernet. ADLINK’s COM Express modules provide the computational and graphics processing capabilities to perform the data collation and image rendering required by next generation ultrasound devices. ADLINK also offers thermal design power (TPD) adjustments on BIOS set-up to allow customers to achieve the right balance between power consumption (i.e., mobility) and performance.

System designers can focus on their core competencies when they choose a COM-based development platform, as this approach makes high-performance computing possible without the need to invest the time and resources into designing a single board computer.

A COM Express-based solution with a custom carrier board offers several key advantages. COM Express boards:

  • Feature a variety of external I/O interfaces and configurations and are not limited to traditional connectors
  • Can contain value-added silicon such as FPGAs or other types of peripherals; by placing these devices on the carrier board, the need for PCI Express or PCI expansion slots can be eliminated
  • Uncouple the CPU from the I/O, so different processors may be used according to the application. CPUs may range from Intel® Atom™ based chips to Intel® Core™ i7
  • Save the manufacturer valuable time on the design and maintenance of the core computing module
  • Provide compatibility with a wide variety of peripherals

ADLINK offers a large selection of COM Express products in the most widely applied form factors.

ADLINK COM Express modules are available in three different sizes, each built around the x86 architecture. The current COM Express specification, COM.0 Rev. 2.1/3.0, includes advanced I/O support for Super Speed USB 3.0 and PCI Express Gen 3 signaling, as well as as well as DisplayPort, HDMI/DVI, and eDP video interfaces.

Providing both legacy and current serial interfaces, COM Express modules are the ideal form factor for industry-standard mobile ultrasound stations. The modules offer ample processing power and graphics capabilities, making them well suited for the large, static smart panels deployed in operating and examination rooms. Finally, the Mini-size Type 10 module at 84 x 55 mm is small enough to be used for hand-held solutions, giving doctors a highly mobile tool they can carry with them for bedside patient visits.

Alex Wang is Product Manager, Modules and Boards Product Center for the ADLINK Embedded Platforms and Modules Business Unit.

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