In an effort to enable life saving diagnostic imaging equipment to be taken anywhere it could be necessary, device manufacturers are seeking technologies to help them design devices that will facilitate fully functional, smaller, portable devices. Using computer-on-modules and smart battery technology, they are finding the tools they need to make these devices available.

Christine A. Van De Graaf is a product manager with the Embedded Modules Division at Kontron America. She is responsible for product management and product marketing for standard module and SBC products. Van De Graaf can be reached at 510-284-1150 or

Life threatening situations require the use of portable medical devices to deliver the right information to doctors in medical settings, emergency personnel on the go, and patients at home so they can make informed decisions. This “take everywhere” diagnostic imaging equipment has been a top challenge in embedded medical design. Characterized by a high demand for performance and low power, all within a small footprint, these devices require that designers pioneer new design thinking. They must pay particular attention to technologies that enable low power consumption, high efficiency driven by extended battery life, and high precision computing for the fastest response time.

Many of these size and performance demandsparticularly key in medical imagingcan be fully realized with Intel multicore processor architectures integrated into computer-on-modules (COMs). Multicore processing has definitely changed the course of computing, providing new levels of energy-efficient performance enabled by advanced parallel processing and next-generation hafnium-based 45-nm technology. Applications that previously faced barriers due to size, performance issues, or power consumption limitations can now be developed using a standard COM implementation.

COMs Are Key in Medical Design
The COM solution is a highly integrated component SBC that supports system expansion and application-specific customization. With COMs, the CPU module provides the core functionality, with all the application-specific features designed directly onto the baseboard for a semi-custom embedded solution. The inherent ability to swap the COM module without touching the existing customized carrier board makes upgrading simple, which is important as technologies change rapidly.

The development of smaller and smaller devices has propelled the need for smaller and smaller COMs as well. To address this need, several variants are now available: the basic form factor COM Express Pin-out Type 2 module defined by PICMG; the compact form factor COM Express Type 2 compatible module; and the ultra small form factor COM Express Pin-out Type 1 module. With heat-sinks or heat-spreaders mounted directly on the module or coupled to the system enclosure, cooling is effectively managedparticularly important in sealed medical devices that have completely restricted airflow to minimize bacteria.

Power Efficiency with Smart Battery Technology
Integrated smart battery technology goes beyond low power to provide the power efficiency required by today’s ultraportable medical devices. This may call for software-enabled customization, an easy fit for any COMs solution that can be designed into the custom carrier board, and includes set parameters for recharging certain portions of the device while keeping others in standby mode, resuming full power and function when needed. Customized solutions based on ETX, COM Express (basic FF pin-out type 2), and microETXexpress (compatible to COM Express pin-out type 2) are an ideal fit for smart battery implementation. MARS (mobile application platform for rechargeable systems) is one such modular reference design developed by Kontron in which two smart batteries are added to the customized carrier board to work in conjunction with the COM. This is ideal for the variety of COM solutions available, providing an easy method to put smart battery capabilities onto a customized carrier board. 

Silicon-platform and operating system independent, the MARS approach is modular, meaning it allows designers to select only those blocks of functionality necessary for a specific design. Medical electronics engineers can employ a variety of options to optimize mobile applications, integrating uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), in-operation battery recharging and a wide range of input voltage (from 5 to 20 VDC). MARS permits ATX functionality with a single voltage input and ATX voltage output and support for suspend modes S0 through S5. In addition, surge and short circuit protection and monitoring extend the overall use of the device and its applicability for ultra-portable applications.

With a reference design that both simplifies and accelerates the design process, designers have a quick evaluation platform that is open for unlimited design use and provides a guideline for spot-on engineering. It’s key that these reference designs be silicon-platform and operating system independent to make development and integration into the overall solution as easy as possible.

For example, today’s ultrasound units must provide advanced performance and be simple to use. In emergency situations, an ultrasound system that is small, portable, and highly reliable is also essential to the well-being of the patient. A compact ultrasound unit about the size of a brick incorporates a COM Express design, including smart battery, and the graphics capabilities required for immediate medical diagnosis. Conveying information directly to emergency room personnel, an EMT is able to scan patient images that can be interpreted remotely by doctors to ascertain the appropriate care en route to the hospital and upon arrival. With this system, decisions can be made more accurately and quickly as the patient begins treatment.

Medical Design Moving Forward
Medical applications that have faced obstacles due to size, performance, or power limitations have found a viable solution in the standard COM implementation. For instance, a portable medical device can be acquiring data while another portion of the device can either be “asleep” or transmitting that datadrawing on complex power management capabilities to greatly improve the speed and quality of patient care. Seamless, constant usability and data collection gives medical care professionals the ability to focus on caring for the patient with little or no manual management of the devices they use.

Small form factors with low power consumption and energy efficiency are likely to keep driving the industry, enabling medical device designers to build products that deliver the vital information doctors need at the point of care.

For additional information on the technologies and products discussed in this article, see MDT online at or Kontron at