In the battle of bigger is better vs. less is more, patient monitoring devices typically fall in the minimalist camp, unless the patient is a pregnant elephant under birth watch.


Remote patient monitoring devices, and especially home-based monitoring systems, are igniting the telehealth market by sparking interest from major medical OEMs and start-ups looking to capitalize on the technology’s potential benefits of improved access to care and reduced health care costs. These wireless mobile devices, including systems that check a patient’s vital signs and gather clinical measurements such as glucose levels or ECG data, must be small and non-intrusive to effectively monitor patients going about their daily activities, and by necessity for portability, must maintain low power draw.


The Intel® Atom™ processor E3800 product family addresses both the size and power concerns for embedded hardware designers targeting patient monitoring applications by packing in faster graphics, robust Error-Correcting Code (ECC) memory, and double the computing performance of the previous-generation processor while consuming less than 10 W of power in a single System-on-Chip (SoC) solution.


“As Intel has moved to an SoC architecture with the new Intel® AtomTM processor platform, module vendors are finding new ways to create smaller, lower-power platforms,” says Dan Demers, congatec’s director of marketing for the Americas. “These changes are in turn enabling the designers of medical equipment to achieve their size and power goals for their products.”


Of the vast array of small form factors offered by module vendors today, COM Express in particular fulfills the requirements for patient monitoring devices because it comprises a number of physical sizes and defined pin-outs that scale to a variety of applications, Demers says. In addition, COM Express is a well-established specification backed by a large ecosystem and embraced by the medical community.


“Although it might have gotten its start in larger medical equipment like imaging and ultrasound, COM Express' acceptance in the industry has made it a candidate for the next generation of portable medical devices,” Demers says. “When it comes to remote patient monitoring, COM Express is a good fit because it gives the designer a choice of various sizes for the module, while still providing access to common specified design principles.”


Leveraging the flexibility of the COM Express form factor and the energy efficiency of the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family, congatec’s conga-TCA3 module (Figure 1) targets various telehealth applications, such as home-based connected monitoring devices that track patients’ vitals. The compact Type 6 COM Express module provides two SODIMM sockets for DDR3L memory modules plus a dual-channel memory interface for increased graphics performance. In addition to supporting CRT and DisplayPort 1.1 or HDMI 1.4a, the conga-TCA3 offers a variety of I/O including up to five PCI Express (PCIe) x1, eight USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0, LPC, SPI, I2C, and SDIO.conga-TCA3 photo.jpg

Figure 1. congatec conga-TCA3


Besides the advantages of connectivity and scalability, COM Express modules like the conga-TCA3 help designers significantly reduce design effort and enable the lower power and small size of the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family platform (formerly codenamed Bay Trail) to be quickly designed into new medical products, Demers says.


“The OEM designer has the peace of mind that the Intel Atom processor solution will solve the power draw and performance concerns, while the COM Express module relieves the concerns of obsolescence and time-consuming design cycles,” Demers says.


Medical OEMs using COM Express can stick with their own carrier boards to maintain their design know-how such as security and easily upgrade performance by simply replacing the COM Express module, says Jarry Chang, product marketing director at DFI.


DFI offers two Intel Atom processor E3800 product family-based COM Express modules that can be used for patient monitoring – the BT968 (Compact Type 6, pictured in Figure 2) and BT9A3 (Mini Type 10, pictured in Figure 3) – both of which support numerous expansion interface options and onboard graphics features including Intel® HD Graphics, helping meet the requirement for higher-resolution displays and greater graphics performance in patient monitoring applications, Chang says.

BT968(M030122)R1.jpgFigure 2. DFI BT968

BT9A3(M021002).jpgFigure 3. DFI BT9A3


In addition to providing enhanced graphics and faster GPU performance, the Intel Atom processor SoC is rated for extended-temperature environments, opening the door for creative monitoring equipment that might not fall under the normal envelope of medical monitoring, Demers says.


Built on 22 nm technology, the latest-generation Intel Atom processor product family also helps meet the longevity requirements of the medical field by guaranteeing a minimum seven-year life cycle, and ensures medical data reliability through ECC memory support and hardware-assisted security capabilities. The processor’s small footprint enables a thin industrial footprint, thus saving space at the patient’s bedside, as well as a quiet fanless design, helping meet stringent hygienic standards, says Carlos Queiroz, medical business line manager at Kontron.


Kontron offers a full range of Intel Atom processor E3800 product family-based COM Express modules, including the COMe-mBT10 COM Express mini module family (see Figure 4). The Type 10 pin-out modules provide options for data memory, including two SATA II 300 Mbps interfaces or up to 64 GB additional eMMC memory, as well as Super Fast USB 3.0 interfaces, up to eight USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, and three Gen 2 PCIe x1 lanes for application-specific expansions.

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 12.00.08 PM.pngFigure 4. Kontron COMe-mBT10 COM Express mini module


These robust interface features, combined with the computing performance and power efficiency of the Intel Atom processor, help satisfy the demand for absolute reliability as well as low power consumption in remote patient monitoring equipment. Additionally, open-platform modules like COM Express support the flexibility to meet changing hospital or clinic needs while protecting their investments for the future, Queiroz says.


“Patient monitoring has to bring together patient data from diverse sources, such as vital signs, lab data, patient data management systems, and images so that MRIs, scans, and X-rays can be displayed on one screen,” Queiroz says. “Open platforms can support this and help spare not only time and costs, but also support fast decisions that can save patients’ lives.”


As open, scalable COM Express solutions are helping improve outcomes in patient monitoring applications, other next-generation Intel Atom processor-based boards and modules in numerous types of form factors are enhancing health care delivery through a variety of medical devices and systems. Read this post exploring the diverse range of medical application areas in which Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance hardware solutions are fulfilling graphics functionality and low-power requirements. And be sure to visit the Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance Solutions Directory for up-to-date listings of Bay Trail-based COM Express modules as well as all the latest Bay Trail products.


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Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance. congatec AG and DFI are Associate members of the Alliance.


Jennifer Hesse

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance