Data at the Medical Edge: COM Express Powers Advances in Imaging and AI Workloads

By Maria Wilde

Product Portfolio Manager

Kontron America

August 01, 2022


Data at the Medical Edge: COM Express Powers Advances in Imaging and AI Workloads

Upgradability optimizes customization investments for long-term, evolving medical deployment.

Medical applications are among the most diverse and critical – and today, more of them are capitalizing on real-time data for improved patient care. For system developers, increased data performance is just one more factor to add to a long list of design priorities specific to medical use cases.

The COM Express® standard plays an important role in meeting these demands; optimized for size, longevity, and data-intensive workflows at the edge. Security is built-in for protection against malware and digital threats, and options include validation for extended temperatures optimized for rugged environments.

These characteristics amplify the inherent flexibility of COM Express®. The standard’s pairing of standalone computer-on-module (COM) single board computers and carrier boards ensures scalability for long-term deployment. This creates a tangible advantage in the realm of regulated medical design, offering a long-term upgrade path for increasingly data-heavy healthcare applications.

COM Express® at the Healthcare Edge

The small form factor of COM Express® lets designers tap into data at the edge. Mobile or cart-based systems – that demand robust data performance in a small footprint – can today handle AI and other data-rich workloads in surgical suites, treatment rooms, and the widest variety of clinical environments.

Kontron’s latest COM Express® Basic Type 6 illustrates a design option, and features 11th Gen Intel® Core™ and Intel® Xeon® W-11000E Series processors to ensure real-time data performance. Performance gains are notable from earlier generation processors, including graphics up to 70 percent faster, supported by up to a 32 percent increase in single-thread performance, and up to a 65 percent increase in multithread performance.

These broad gains, and in particular the multithread performance boost, optimize data handling and accelerate processing for AI, graphics, and other data-heavy workloads. Better graphics matter a great deal when it comes to medical imaging, helping to ensure that high-resolution patient data is accessible to clinicians.

Faster processing of high-resolution images also allows healthcare systems to blend deep learning inference with medical imaging equipment such as ultrasounds or MRIs. Module-based systems can tap into data close to where it is generated, offering precise visuals into a patient’s physical structures, and providing clinicians with improved visibility during procedures.

When healthcare providers are supported with more advanced tools, consistency and precision in care improve in step. Diagnosis is faster and more accurate, for example, quickly recognizing anomalies in medical images and flagging them for more detailed review. In one such application, fetal measurements are automated during the ultrasound procedure, with richer images shared among providers via up to four 4K displays or a single 8K display.

Building Blocks for Performance and Longevity

COM Express® Computer-on-Modules are essentially building blocks for designers. They integrate all core computing features, such as processor, graphics, and memory, along with a set of standardized interfaces. Developers can readily integrate these features into their design via an application-specific carrier board, which contains all customization and required I/Os for the application at hand. The end solution matches the application requirements and design risk is reduced.

Certified medical devices benefit from the distinct separation of carrier board and computing unit. When one module is replaced with another off-the-shelf option, OEMs are not faced with complete requalification of their EN60601-certified carrier board. Essentially decoupling a custom application from its processor technology creates a long-term cost advantage for OEMs, now able to scale performance or upgrade to the latest module.

With a single design as a foundation, OEMs can implement performance levels reflecting the full range of processors offered for the module. The approach of using a module plus carrier design extends a medical device’s deployable lifetime efficiently, cost-effectively, and well beyond the service limitations of current generations of processors.

Capitalizing on Healthcare Data for Smarter Systems and Better Care

Real-time data is driving change in healthcare, illustrated by smarter applications accelerating and improving diagnosis and treatment. Capitalizing on data, artificial intelligence is advancing capabilities and arming clinicians with more sophisticated tools and devices. For designers, the onslaught of data is non-stop and therefore a top challenge in medical device designs that need not only performance but also longevity.

Pairing a COM Express® module with a custom carrier board helps manage time to market, reducing development costs and overall complexity. Upgradability is built-in, ensuring OEMs avoid unnecessary requalification over the lifetime of the end product.

Today’s demand for secure, high-performance edge processing has never been greater – and is only likely to evolve with new and more data-intensive applications. COM Express® is well-suited to the task, enabling designers to tap into rich graphics and advanced automation driving real change on the connected health landscape.