Portable ultrasound equipment could get a big boost from the introduction of a new analog integrated circuit (IC) that enables next-generation machines to pack more performance into a smaller electronic package. Analog Devices Inc. says its new “analog front end” — which integrates amplifiers, an analog-to-digital (A/D) converter and a filter — delivers a level of performance that could bring portable ultrasound equipment closer to the realm of today’s larger, cart-based ultrasound systems.
“The smaller form factor of this analog front end helps put ultrasound into more settings,” says Pamela Aparo, marketing manager for ADI’s high-speed converters. “You could do this with a bigger board and a bigger battery, but that would take away the portability.”
ADI’s development could be a significant step forward for the medical industry, judging by the recent, rapid growth of portable ultrasound systems. A forecast from the market research firm, Frost & Sullivan, predicts a compound annual growth rate of 19.2 percent for such equipment. The report adds, the market for the technology will grow to $330 million by 2010, as the portable devices find their way into more doctor’s offices and emergency clinics.
ADI engineers believe their technology could boost the use of portable ultrasound systems because it enables lower power operation. The company says its single-chip analog front end, known as the AD9271, operates at power levels of about 150 mW per channel, about 25 percent less than existing system. By integrating amplifiers with an A/D converter, the AD9271 also reduces overall printed circuit board area by 38 percent.
“That’s an advantage for portable ultrasound systems because it improves battery life and makes it easier to get the heat out of the package,” says Jon Hall, strategic marketing manager for ADI’s High-Speed Converter Group.
At the same time, the company says the new chip offers a higher dynamic range for portable ultrasound equipment, making it possible for the systems to “see” deeper into a patient.
ADI engineers say they accomplished all that by using a CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) process to fabricate the chip’s low-noise amplifier (LNA) and variable-gain amplifier (VGA).
ADI engineers say the combination of higher dynamic range and smaller size are critical to the success of portable ultrasound machines because the improved performance enables results to be interpreted by people who have limited ultrasound experience.
“The smaller form factor provides portability,” Hall says. “And the performance makes for better images, which makes ultrasound available to a wider variety of patients.”