In medical imaging, a picture is worth a thousand words and several gigabytes of data. MRI and CT scans, mass-spectrometry, phenotyping, and genetic studies generate hundreds of terabytes of data that must be processed and stored by powerful supercomputers, like the Intel Xeon-based SGI Altix UV being used to support the efforts of the Institute of Cancer Research in England.


Companies that manufacture medical imaging equipment rely on embedded technology vendors to deliver high-performance components that won’t break down prematurely. This type of equipment (such as the GE Healthcare CT750 HD computed tomography scanner pictured below) requires massive computing power to manipulate data and project it as Picture Archive and Communication System (PACS)-level images for radiologists to read on high-definition displays, says Clayton Tucker, senior marketing manager at Emerson Network Power Embedded Computing, a Premier member of Intel® Embedded Alliance.


“The importance of high performance becomes more significant in direct correlation with the discernment of the soft tissue and organs at almost a molecular level,” Tucker says. “Slices in CT have gone from 16 to mind-boggling 256 or more today. That is a tremendous amount of information being deconstructed and reconstructed in real time.”




Longevity is equally important as high performance in embedded designs for medical systems, as medical equipment manufacturers want their end products to sell for 5-10 years to recoup ROI and comply with health and safety regulations.


“The average consumer pays little attention to ever-evolving computer technology, except to perhaps complain at the rapid outdating of their home PC,” says Jason Wallace, marketing manager at Corvalent, an Affiliate member of the Alliance. “For manufacturers requiring extensive certifications that necessitate long time to market, the continual evolution of the industry and constant discontinuation of old technology for new can spell disaster for a corporate bottom line.”


To help ensure high performance and long-term operation, Corvalent “overengineers” its motherboard products using a variety of processes, from conformal coating to board-level design changes, Wallace says. For example, the Corsys-M10 Medical Tablet with an Intel Core 2 processor is designed to withstand common hospital chemicals and significant physical abuse for reliable performance in its intended environment.


All of Corvalent’s long life-cycle industrial motherboards utilize Intel technology, allowing the company to supply medical equipment manufacturers with products that last 7-10 years and thus won’t be discontinued multiple times before the end product hits the market, Wallace says.


ADLINK Technology, an Associate member of the Alliance, also uses the Intel architecture in its long-life products for medical applications, such as the CoreModule and NuPRO series of SBCs, says ADLINK channel manager Alan Wells.


“With Intel’s seven year backing of embedded products that allows customers a five-plus year ROI, that, in turn, lowers their total cost of ownership,” Wells says.


Alliance Premier member Kontron likewise leverages the Intel embedded roadmap and partners with strategic suppliers to extend the life of its products for medical environments, such as an ETXexpress baseboard and ETXexpress-CD video frame grabber used in dental imaging systems, said Jack London, product manager with Kontron America’s Embedded Modules Division, during the Q&A session of a recent webcast.


“We are seeing faster turnover because of the rapid pace of change in technology, and for this reason, we go with Computer-On-Module (COM) technology so the computer can scale with the application as processor performance improves,” London remarked.


Emerson also offers COM Express modules as well as MicroATX motherboards such as the MATXM-CORE-411-B, all of which use the latest Intel Core i5 and i7 processors to tackle demanding 3D and 4D ultrasound applications. Manufactured using 32-nanometer process technology, these processors provide medical equipment makers with significant increases in performance and energy efficiency, Tucker says.


Several chips in the Intel Core processor family come with Intel vPro technology, delivering hardware assistance for security and management functions that are particularly important in medical equipment. For example, Intel Virtualization Technology, which enables divergent applications to run in parallel on a single device, minimizes software overhead in compute-intensive medical devices by moving much of the burden of software-based virtualization into hardware, while Intel Trusted Execution Technology guards against software attacks and protects the confidentiality and integrity of vital patient data. These and other technologies combine to provide intelligent performance in reliable, trusted, and cost-effective platforms, Tucker asserts.


“Medical institutions are dealing with an increasingly complex plethora of networked embedded devices in the clinical environment,” he says. “The remote management capabilities provided by Intel Active Management Technology can help them contain rising support costs by querying, fixing, and protecting networked embedded devices even when they’re powered off, not responding, or have software issues.”


With lives depending on these networked medical devices, the need for accurate, reliable, interoperable embedded designs becomes imperative. This series will wrap up next week with a look at how members of the Continua Health Alliance and Intel Embedded Alliance are working together to fulfill these critical requirements.


As far as “big iron” (MRI, CT, and other expensive diagnostic imaging) medical equipment is concerned, what products does your company offer that can meet these applications’ needs for high performance and long life?


Jennifer Hesse

OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance