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TI enters medical electronics arena

Posted: 20 Feb 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:medical electronics  DSP  medical chips  Texas Instruments  Rick Merritt 

Seeing enough growth in medical electronics, Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) has quietly started a small group focused in the field.

"Over the next three to five years there will be new kinds of medical devices with unique requirements that we need to understand sooner, not later," said Doug Rasor, a longtime TI corporate executive who was named vice president of emerging medical technologies in December.

"We think the revenues from medical chips will grow ten fold in the next ten years," said Rasor. "The volumes still may not be that large but the value is high," he added.

Since late last year, TI has been pulling together existing staff from a variety of business units into a group focused on medical devices. "When the dust settles there could be 50-100 people in the group, about 80 per cent of them in some sort of development role," Rasor said.

Several chip makers have stepped up their focus on medical electronics recently. Intel Corp. created a Digital Health group about two years ago, while Microchip Technology Inc. reportedly created a medical group last year. Analog Devices Inc., Maxim and Qualcomm are also reported to be increasing activity in the sector.

TI is working on a 20-30MIPS DSP with "an order of magnitude less power consumption that today's DSPs" to be launched in 2008 that could be a key product for medical devices. It is also aimed at headsets, MP3 players and a variety of other systems, Rasor said.

"Implantable devices will require an order of magnitude-plus lower power consumption," Rasor said.

Such products could also be enablers for the market for digital hearing aids which has been stagnant at sales of about 50 lakh units a year, despite the fact some 12 per cent of the population may need them. That's in part because today's devices are too large, expensive and lack customisation, Rasor said.

"We're doing some work on our DSPs that could fuel the market for digital hearing aids," he said.

TI expects a variety of future DSP, communications chips and analogue products will play well in an increasingly broad group of portable, networked medical devices. "Even simple things like digital thermometers will have Bluetooth interfaces so they can communicate with cell phones and send a message to a doctor if needed," Rasor said. "Ultrasound devices are going through a transformation in resolution and portability," he added.

The company has also been working with Zonare Medical Systems Inc., which has developed a ten-pound laptop-sized ultrasound scanner. Eventually engineers will craft handheld versions of the products for use by first responders, he said.

To push the medical agenda forward, TI joined in the past year the Continua Health Alliance that is setting guidelines for networked consumer devices. The company has also joined the IEEE 11073 effort that is setting standards for data formats to ease to path for connecting a wide variety of home and hospital medical systems.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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