Switch-On Intelligence for Longer Life

Reliability of medical equipment is the No. 1 prerequisite. If measuring something, not only does that measurement need to be accurate, but also there are mechanisms within the product that need to ensure that it is always self-calibrated to precise measurement at all times. What sets one handheld medical product from another is in the types of sensors that are used.

Lattice Semiconductor is not in the sensor market, but is the world’s leading provider of ultra-low-power programmable IC solutions for makers of all types of consumer, automotive, industrial and medical devices: FPGAs, CPLDs, and Power Management solutions.

Jim Tavacoli, senior director of industrial and communications market, said that after Lattice began to invest R&D resources into consumer mobility solutions, it also began bringing a mobility revolution into medical applications--particularly the medical handheld devices. “We believe that the same design challenges exist and dominate in all mobile communication products, including medical. This includes battery life, power size, compactness. And for disposable medical devices, obviously cost.”

The technology Lattice supplies enables customers to design intelligent always-on engines into their systems that provide vital information to the user without requiring always-on hardware or software subsystem that consume power.

 “In certain handheld medical monitors, the temperature, time, and battery status can all be read and driven to a display or LED without any user intervention and with minimal impact to the battery. This proven approach has been compared with others based on microcontrollers. Our approach results in lower power and faster response time,” said Tavacoli.

Medical is not like consumer, which changes every few months. All handheld devices are just a small part of an infrastructure that can’t be easily modified once it is all in place and working perfectly. On top of cost, medical also has the need to certify any new medical device. Plus, everything has highly proprietary IP systems in place.

A simple diagram of what is in a medical handheld device is the best way to understand this. One component is a sensing component. A component in the middle is a processing component. Then there is a component that receives this data and transmits it out to a console or to a main computer or other device. That is strictly a transmission component.

“What we typically do is take on the role of gathering the sensor data and pre-processing it,” explained Tavacoli. “For example, in a handheld application, battery life is critical. One of the functions we perform is we become an intelligent ‘On Switch’ that performs activity detection or event trigger detection in low-power or wake-up modes. You don’t want to turn on the Bluetooth or WiFi—the processing subsystem—until you are sure that the data that has just been channeled by this sensor is valid data. So, we sit inside of that sensor output and analyze if this is valid data. If it is, only then will it turn on the rest of the system for event recognition and data processing. We do this because once the rest of the system activates, it begins to consume a decent amount of power. We are an intelligent on-switch that is always on, but consumes very little power. We do a very simple function, but we do it very efficiently.”

Lattice chips are FPGAs, which offers two benefits: they can be programmed to do one function very efficiently, and the interfaces into and out of these devices can also be programmed. They support any kind of sensors. All of the innovations in sensor technology translate into different kinds of interfaces, different types of data, and different timing for the information.

“At the base level, the devices are the same, the tools that we use to do the design are the same,” noted Tavacoli. “But at the same time, the IP that is developed to meet any product developed for a specific company is proprietary and targeted to only that one customer.”          

The challenges for all of the companies providing these tools is to create solutions that are as good or better than those they create for other industries, while also adding the enhancements that are making each a perfect fit for the high demands of medical applications. The challenge is great, but so far it is being met and even exceeded.

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