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Ultrasound Imaging

ARM ® and DSP ensure rapid imaging

In order to meet the demanding requirements of image processing applications in electronic medical devices and equipment, MSC Vertriebs GmbH has designed a compact Qseven™ module which is based on the DM8168 DaVinci™ Digital Media Processor from Texas Instruments (TI). The DM8168 integrates an ARM ® MPU and a digital signal processor (DSP). A standard library with DSP-optimized algorithms and a tried-and-tested module concept enable fast product development.

Ultrasound imaging products used nowadays for medical diagnostics and therapies have become indispensible. The advantage of this method is that the sound waves, having a frequency of between 1 MHz and 40 MHz at a medium sound intensity of 100 mW/cm2, are not harmful to animal or human tissues. The basic technology, also called sonography, makes use of the different reflections of the ultrasound on the boundaries between tissue and air, acoustically different tissues and on the boundaries between bone and tissues. The main applications in the medical sector include gall bladder and kidney examinations, cardiology, gynecology, tumor detection, radiotherapy and ophthalmology.

In addition to electronics for the sound generation, an ultrasound imaging product comprises signal processing and image display, a variety of interfaces for the connection of a monitor and printer as well as for storage media or a video camera. The ultrasound probe (transducer head) is connected to the main unit via a cable. Printouts (sonograms) or video recordings can be prepared as documentation from the monitor images. Ultrasound imaging products are available in a range of different models, for example, small portable systems in personal digital assistant (PDA) format or large desktop types.

Due to the increase in computing power, and particularly through the progress in digital signal processing, the image quality of ultrasound imaging products has continued to improve in recent years. For example, by means of digital sound wave coding it is possible to clearly differentiate between ambient noise and the sound wave used for image generation and thus improve the image resolution. Furthermore, beside the two-dimensional, color-coded Doppler method, the amplitude-coded power Doppler technology was developed. Spatial still images are possible with 3D ultrasound imaging products. 4D ultrasound imaging even permits three-dimensional displays in real-time. Cross section views of a particular organ from any viewing angle can be generated or a virtual journey can be made through the human body.

High-performance Computer-On-Modules (COMs) are increasingly often used for fast development of innovative ultrasound imaging products. COM-based solutions offer standard PC functionality on the processor module and application-specific functions on a specially designed baseboard. The module is easily mounted on the baseboard via the proven standard connector. Hence, the development complexity and design risk can be substantially reduced and design times can be significantly optimized. The embedded modules offered meet defined standard specifications regarding format and performance and are therefore interchangeable with products from different manufacturers. Furthermore, as a rule, a range of different versions with scalable processor power are offered, thus enabling a simple upgrade to a higher performance for example. Likewise, a COM that has been used for a long time can be exchanged with a more up-to-date COM, for example with optimized power management functions in order to minimize the power consumption. This possibility is particularly interesting for the implementation of mobile, battery-operated ultrasound imaging products.

Today, the Qseven™ standard, which defines modules in a compact form factor of 70 mm x 70 mm, is widely accepted in many applications. In addition to support for various x86 processors, the latest Qseven™ Specification Revision 1.2 has added support for power-efficient ARM ®/RISC architectures. In 2011, as one of the first providers, MSC Technologies presented the Qseven™ embedded platform MSC Q7-NT2 which is based on the NVIDIA ® Tegra™ 290 low-power processor with dual core ARM ® Cortex-A9.

In order to meet the demanding requirements of image capture and image processing systems in the field of medical technology, MSC Vertriebs GmbH now offers an additional Qseven™ module with ARM ® architecture (Figure 1). The high-performance MSC Q7-TI8168 Qseven™ module is based on the DM8168 DaVinci™ Digital Media Processor from Texas Instruments (TI). The DM8168 integrates an ARM ® Cortex™-A8 RISC MPU (up to 1.2 GHz) and a TI C674x VLIW floating-point DSP core with up to 8000 MIPS/6000 MFLOPS.

The use of digital signal processors (DSPs) has great advantages, especially in the area of image processing, for example in the analysis of ultrasound or radiography images in real-time. Wolfgang Eisenbarth, Director Communications, MSC Technologies, explained: “DSPs are specially designed for demanding data and image analysis in real-time. By managing these tasks, the DSPs can thus significantly reduce the workload of the integrated ARM ® processor. Furthermore, there is no longer the need, as in the past, for the development of very specific software and its adaptation to the processor core.

The ARM ® NEON™ media processing engine, integrated in the DM8168, supports video imaging, speech, audio codes and frameworks. With the already optimized C6EZAccel and C6EZRun libraries from TI, numerous tasks such as digital filtering, complex mathematical calculations, image processing and image analysis can be easily performed. C6EZAccel enables acceleration of the signal processing tasks by using DSP optimized algorithms (APIs) (Figure 2). More than 130 DSP library elements such as OpenGL ES or 2D graphics are freely available to developers. C6EZRun executes the code porting, in order to run ARM ® code on the DSP.

In addition to MPU and DSP, the DM8168 DaVinci™ Digital Media Processor includes 32 KB instruction cache, 32 KB data cache, 256 KB L2 cache, 64 KB RAM and 48 KB boot ROM. The Qseven™ module MSC Q7-TI8168 integrates 1 GB DDR3-1600 SDRAM and a maximum of 2 GB NAND Flash memory.

MSC Technologies offers the MSC Q7-MB-EP4 baseboard for immediate use in embedded systems that integrate the MSC Q7-TI8168 ARM ®-based Qseven™ module. The high-performance embedded platform, according to Wolfgang Eisenbarth, can also be put directly into production. Thus, in many cases, this saves the customer complex in-house design effort.

Because the MSC Q7-TI8168 compact Qseven™ module is easily mounted on the baseboard via a proven MXM connection, there is a direct thermal connection of the heat spreader to the metal enclosure. This ensures an optimal passive cooling. Thanks to the implemented Direct Digital Interfaces (DDI) the digital video signals of the module go directly to the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connector.

The baseboard measures 148 mm x 102 mm and provides a wide variety of important interfaces such as dual Gigabit Ethernet, five USB 2.0 ports (four external), RS-232 (pin header), AC97 audio and SATA. In addition, CAN signals are available via a special pin header. Furthermore, an ARM ® RS-232 debug port for Linux software development is provided. Industrial displays can be connected via the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connector and the Low-Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS) interface directly via JILI30 connector. Additionally, the platform integrates a controller for the connection of a resistive touch screen and supports the connection of a backlight.

In order to further extend the functions on the baseboard, for example for the support of wireless local area network (WLAN), a mini PCI Express™ slot is provided. The mSATA slot provides an easy way to add a SATA-based Flash memory card. The baseboard can also be individually configured by customers via the integrated MMC/SD card slot.

Author: Wolfgang Eisenbarth, Director Communications, MSC Technologies

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