Archive | April, 2013

Microcontrollers for Medicine – Part I

25 Apr
The building of the musium of traditional medical equipments in Japan (wikimedia)

Healthcare is becoming more demanding by the hour…. probably by the minute. Natural calamities and resultant man-made disasters contribute heavily to those diseases which were unheard of in the past. Pollution, so called global warming, receding forest density…. you may add to the list and would not stop for the next few hours…. so long is the list of contributors to diseases and deformities.

As if this is not enough, hospitalisation expenses climb the Himalayas faster than petroleum prices.

Fine…… let us stop the negativities today and now.

It is imperative that we know what has been done by our engineers’ fraternity about all this.

You are right, it is a doctor’s job.

However, can you  imagine your physician without a thermometer and a stethoscope or a blood pressure apparatus?

It is we , the engineers who devise such medical equipment from a simple thermometer to a MRI scanner. Engineers put their heart and soul in these products which result in ultimate patient care and hence makes the job of the medical community easier.

Now, coming to the point,

How are microcontrollers used in medicine?

Sensing and detection

Patient vital signs such as ECG, Blood Pressure, Oxygen Saturation, Temperature, etc, are measured by analog-rich mixed signal microcontrollers. These microcontrollers have in-built ADCs which convert these vital sign analog information into digital data. Internal processing with digital filters designed through embedded firmware, filter out unwanted noise and remove those components which may give rise to false alarms. 

This clean data, then, is processed to find various vital values such as Heart Rate, Oxygen Saturation, Blood Pressure, etc.

Each of these measured and deduced data are stored in flash and eeprom memory for data logging. 

After doing all these, microcontrollers display these values in the right display formats. For long-term patients, the clinician can monitor these data as trending graph for periods of upto past 3 to 5 days. 

Clinical decision making is made simple by monitoring and reviewing the stored data. 

To be continued…

Next in Part II : Pain Management and Physiotherapy

(DesignSpark 16/03/11)


Metamorphosis – Project Engineer to Product Designer

9 Apr

“You need a very product-oriented culture… Lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …..there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.” – Steve Jobs

titleAs an engineer, you are mostly required to work in product development teams. Your team often consists of system architects, programmers, hardware designers and so on. Being a team member, you are assigned a certain part or area of development with timelines. You complete your part and are satisfied on accomplishing your mission.

This kind of “I have done my job” performance will of course help you develop your career and climb up the ladder of success. You would get your increments and incentives, well, in the right time. However, when you look back after a certain number of years, most of these assignments would appear incomplete. Overall product understanding would have been almost non-existent.

Would you really love to use your phone as a simple talking instrument or a fully functional social networked communication engine, for example? The latter, isn’t it? Then, what stops you from becoming a complete product designer rather than just being a project engineer?

Product Designer, in spite of being capable of executing only a part of the design process, would be involved in the overall system design and interacts with other team members to achieve intended product functionality. What happens if every team member has this kind of attitude? You guessed it right; your product comes out well. You may find below some simple tips to upgrade yourself from where you are to a complete product designer.

Get global

Talk to your peers and the boss. Get an idea of what would be the end product, its functionality, performance criteria,etc. Try to acquire an overall knowledge about the system as a whole. Of course, you would encounter some grey areas marked ‘confidential’ or ‘proprietary’ which may be way above your pay grade level to have access to. Leave them as black boxes and learn everything else. You can always fill in the blanks, later.

Make an assessment

Make a list of concepts/technologies involved. Identify those about which you do not have enough understanding. Categorize these based on your level of understanding.

My categorization would go like

Poor Understanding – ‘I am zero’

Low Average – ‘Hey wait a minute’

Medium Average – ‘I heard about it somewhere’

Average – ’Oh, Yes. May be a little’

Good – ‘Wow. This, I am aware of’

and so on…

It’s time to learn

  • Google extensively and read related articles, blogs and papers. You may also want to read general product design related blogs on how to go about overall product design.
  • You must read Mike Shipulski’s blogs. They deal with various subjects which include product design and innovation.
  • If you would like to read some tips on robust product design, you would find my blog useful.
  • Attend webinars. Most of these are free and easily accessible. All you need to do is register and login to the sites that host them.

Even if these give you a limited understanding, it is worth a try.

It is a long journey of continuous learning. But rest assured you will be finding out more along the way.

As Steve Jobs said, the final product would be the binding force. Make your approach product-centric

Image ref: By Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

All – aware Engineer – Should Embedded Engineer be Multi-purpose?

1 Apr


Following on from my previous blog, another important question has arised....

A Swiss Army Knife's primary function is a Knife, but in fact its a multipurpose tool.... An Embedded Engineers primary function often just focuses on the heart of the system, but in order for the entire design to be successful, do they need to understand and appreciate other aspects of the products design?

All-aware Engineer

Should this person be aware of...

Software? Definitely, yes.

Hardware? Hmmm. My answer would be, yes.

Interfaces? Surely, as these days are ruled by inter-device and intra device interfaces.

Sensors? How else one would know how to scale his measurement ranges. Yes.

PCB Design? You bet. Our modern day chips heavily depend on proper layouting techniques to perform better.

Enclosures? Why not? It doesn't hurt to have an informative knowledge on how we package our products. So, the answer is , maybe.

Front panel design? User interface design can't be imagined without it.

EMC techniques?  Should this be the  first question? Basic precautions from decoupling capacitors, earthing, etc, are important pre-requisites for the design to work outside the lab. So, to a certain extent this knowledge is necessary.

Regulatory compliance? Basic knowledge on this has become mandatory as the regulations are becoming more stringent.

So, can the embedded engineer be called "All-aware engineer" meaning he/she needs to have knowledge on the above and more?

Would there be something left out in the above list?

Or do you think, some of them do not come under the purview of the embedded engineer?

It would be great to hear your views on this!.

DesignSpark - 22/03/12
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