Analog Front End Helps Shrink Ultrasound Equipment

DN Staff

September 10, 2009

2 Min Read
Analog Front End Helps Shrink Ultrasound Equipment

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A new "analog frontend" chip plays a key role in delivering medical ultrasound capabilities to ahost of new locales, including ambulances, disaster sites and remote geographicregions.

The new technology, developed by engineers at TexasInstruments (TI), packs between 30 and 40 electronic components into a singlechip. As a result of its compactness, it enables medical product developers toshrink console-sized ultrasound equipment into handheld sizes.

"This technology cuts size by 70 percentand power by 40 percent, it still enables the ultrasound machine to maintaingood image quality," says Veronica Marques, business development manager forTexas Instruments' Medical Business Unit.

Like all "analog front ends" (AFEs), the new product handlessignals as they pass from an ultrasound machine's probe to its microprocessor.The new device, however, differs dramatically from predecessors in terms ofsize. Known as the AFE5851, it incorporates 16 variable gain amplifiers andeight 12-bit analog-to-digital converters, along with voltage-controlledattenuators (VCA), programmable gain amplifiers (PGA) and anti-aliasing filtersin a single chip measuring about 9 x 9 mm. TI says it was able to reduce thesize of the resulting package by developing a new architecture for the PGA andVCA, and by eliminating a low-noise amplifier from the package. The companyclaims that the AFE5851 is the first 16-channel AFE for the ultrasound marketand is the smallest, lowest-power analog front end, as well.

"If you go back just two or three years, ultrasound designerswere using big components," Marques says. "There was a minimum of 30 to 40 ofthose components making up one of these devices, and we've placed all of themon this single chip."

Moreover, the new integrated AFE architecture has cut powerconsumption. It consumes 39 mW per channel while operating at 32.5 megasamplesper second.

TI engineers say the device serves as an enabler for portableultrasound, not only because of its size, but also because of its low powerdraw. Together, the small size and low power draw have helped to deliver ultrasoundcapabilities to remote regions and rural locales where console-sized unitscan't be used.

"Whether it's for doctors in remote regions or medicaltechnicians in first-respondent situations, there's a need for ultra-portablesystems," Marques says. "This product is giving the ultrasound manufacturers awhole new market to go after."

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