Verifying vital designs

June 1, 2011 OpenSystems Media

Despite a weakened economy, the medical device industry continues to grow and provide plenty of embedded design challenges. According to AARP, the number of Americans over age 65 will double in the next 30 years. This increase will spark continued development of portable medical devices to monitor and analyze the complex medical conditions of an aging population. At this year’s Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Silicon Valley, I met with several vendors developing hardware and software for the next generation of medical device applications, and everyone agreed that embedded designers must prepare for increased software complexity and ubiquitous connectivity.

Medical device design

In this issue’s Strategies section, we cover some of the techniques and tools designers can employ for medical device development, manufacturing, and support. Chiman Patel of WIN Enterprises describes several medical case studies where off-the-shelf Computers-On-Modules (COMs) were used to simplify device development, improve time to market, ease product updates, and extend device life expectancy. His examples include a blood-gas analyzer, a DNA research system, and a laser cosmetic treatment device.

Another important part of medical device manufacturing is a calibration program to certify the accuracy of production measurements. Voler Systems’ Walt Maclay outlines the requirements for a low-cost verification program to calibrate the temperature and pressure sensors contained in disposable catheters. Walt shows how manufacturers can conform to FDA regulations for measurement device validation and traceability to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He also presents techniques to determine the test method, measurement accuracy, and record-keeping requirements of an approved product calibration program.

Medical devices are among a wide range of critical applications with escalating software complexity that can benefit from software verification tools to authenticate quality and ensure safe and reliable operation. Our Software section reviews static code analysis tools and methods designers can use to help locate and correct potentially vulnerable code. Rutul Dave from Coverity introduces static analysis as “the most cost-effective, automated, and repeatable way to meet the challenge of ensuring the quality of complex software.”

The migration to multicore processors is increasing the complexity of today’s embedded software. Developers must write code that takes advantage of multiple cores to gain the promised performance improvements. Multithreaded programming is difficult and subject to new defect types such as race conditions, deadlocks, and starvation. Paul Anderson of GrammaTech examines these multicore software defects and describes the tools needed to isolate them. I was fortunate to spend some time with Paul at ESC to uncover a few of his ideas for what’s next in static analysis for multicore and multithreaded applications.

Low-power strategies

To reduce component count and decrease power requirements, designers turn to silicon technology to enable low-cost platforms that fit multiple embedded applications. This technology includes multicore processors, FPGAs, and System-on-Chip (SoC) devices, along with IP cores from device vendors, third-party suppliers, and the open-source community. The common goal among these technologies is to achieve higher performance with less power.

In our Silicon section, we provide updates on the latest techniques to extract performance from low-power hardware. Pete Hardee of Cadence Design Systems reminds designers that even if hardware is optimized for minimum power, the software and integration teams must properly utilize the power-saving features. Pete points out that the greatest power consumption in a typical mobile multimedia device comes from peripherals, memory architecture, and the digital processor subsystem. He also provides power-saving tips and cautions for system bring-up on a hardware prototype based on FPGAs rather than the final SoC.

Low-power requirements are not unique to portable embedded devices. Joseph Spisak of Sigma Designs describes the power consumption rules for a set-top box prescribed by regulatory bodies such as Energy Star and the European Commission. Although these set-top boxes must support advanced applications like HD video, 3D graphics, Web browsing, gaming, and telepresence, they must do it with less power. The advantages to a low-power design include quiet operation and a lower bill of materials. Joseph remarks that fans are the most fragile consumer electronic component and usually the first to break.

These articles tell us that no matter whether your design objective is a medical instrument or a set-top box, you face similar challenges: product development, time to market, device certification, software analysis, and reduced power consumption. We plan to scour the embedded community to uncover tips and techniques to keep you ahead of the competition. In particular, we’re keeping a close eye on multicore updates and associated software. Please give us your ideas for articles and updates that we can provide to support your design efforts. If you have a suggestion for a technical article or video that would be of interest to you or other designers, please let me know.

Warren Webb, Editorial Director
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