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CPU: The Center of Innovation 

Freescale Semiconductor Inc. is a provider of embedded solutions. “The easiest way to describe this is that we deliver the embedded intelligence,” said David Niewolny, healthcare segment manager. “We also have analog devices that help us deliver entire solutions, but the embedded intelligence is at the core of our business.”

Two areas are prime for medical embedded solutions: telemedicine where patients manage their own health within their home, and proactive approach in healthcare. “Instead of waiting until something is broken to fix it, many solutions that Freescale customers are looking at today are for preventative medicine and healthcare; how to monitor on a regular basis so physicians can see data that shows when things might start going wrong, rather than after it has gone wrong,” Niewolny said.

What Freescale brings to battery-powered devices is low-power microcontrollers and low-power wireless technology. Most of Freescale’s microcontroller products are part of the Kinetis MCU portfolio: Kinetis L series, K series, and--most importantly for medical--Kinetis W series, which is an embedded cortex product line with embedded wireless.

“We have just introduced the world’s smallest microcontroller, the KL03,” said Niewolny. “It is a 2 mm x 2 mm microcontroller that has 32K of Flash and 8K of up-RAM. On the other end of the spectrum, we have our IMX processors. These are processors that run smart mobile devices; over a GHz of performance, multicore/quadcore-type architectures. So we range from everything like a pill that you can swallow that will take data throughout your internal system, to things like a high-end patient monitor, and endoscope that is enabled with providing dual HD displays. But for the highest-volume, best-selling devices right now, it falls into the area of disposable/wearable sensors. That’s a key place for us.”

While most partnerships in this area are under non-disclosure agreements, one example that Niewolny can talk about is the work Freescale has done with Insulet, a company developing products for diabetes care. The challenge was to create a wireless, tubing-free insulin pump that was easy to use and sticks on the body like a patch. It is worn for two or three days and thrown away.

Niewolny explained that Freescale designed a microcontroller with integrated wireless technology, based on ultra-low-power S08 core architecture that met Insulet’s market requirement to design a small, incredibly power-efficient insulin management system that helped to free patients from traditional medical tubes. The OmniPod insulin pump is discreet, durable, wireless, and easy to use, with just two user-friendly parts that communicate wirelessly.

In the wearable market, everything must still be clinical grade and also needs to go through FDA approval but, since a lot of these devices are targeted to the consumer, they almost have to go with the consumer-type lifecycle and do it much more quickly.

 “Of course, a medical device can’t mimic a true consumer device and upgrade every six months, but making the change from a 10-year upgrade to a three-year upgrade in design and capabilities and features is a big deal for this industry,” noted Niewolny.