In addition to a range of products based on X86 processor architectures from Intel and AMD, along with Arm-based processor architectures from NXP and STMicroelectronics, Kontron – which is also part of the German S&T Group – has added Raspberry Pi‑based products from Kontron Austria Electronics.
Customers who want to produce functional prototypes or invest in building software on the standard Raspian operating system (OS) can do so, and with access to many powerful features that are harder to implement on something like Yocto or via Linux.
Why Raspberry Pi?
As more customers brought functional prototypes based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 with no wish to migrate to another platform for production, Kontron, a medical engineering specialist decided to add the Raspberry Pi to complement its existing range of boards and products.
Designing-in the Raspberry Pi Compute Module and remaining on it for production enables customers to progress products without having to make significant changes to the software.
At the same time, due to the strict form factor required for equipment for medical use, the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 and 3+ are far more suitable for the medical instrument sector than the original Raspberry Pi 3.
There is symmetry to the fact that the Raspberry Pi Foundation brought the Raspberry Pi to students and now these students, qualified and working in professional roles, are in turn bringing the Raspberry Pi to technical applications in a range of industries.
The biggest single benefit of using the Raspberry Pi in professional applications is that the ratio between price and CPU power is far better than that offered by many other platforms.
Another feature of Raspberry Pi that makes it suitable for use in medical products (as well as industrial products) is that the Raspberry Pi Compute Module offers EMC compatibility, which is vital for medical products.
One medical-based product the company developed recently using the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 is a Bluetooth gateway for laboratory applications.
Using Bluetooth sensors, it collects data of samples going through a laboratory for analysis and processes this data for use in the kind of documentation that is needed in modern laboratories. It has a USB-C port and a LAN port plus two standard USB ports, a wireless LAN ac and two Bluetooth 5.0 ports to record parameters such as humidity, UV and temperature.
Cubile health monitoring
The Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 was also used in the development of the Cubile continuous patient monitoring system, which has full Class 2b medical certification.
Using ballistocardiography, the Cubile collects data, such as breathing and heart rates, as well as ‘bed exit’ data that helps to prevent falls and pressure sore injuries. Data is acquired using an in-bed sensor pad and the information is transmitted to a range of mobile devices or a PC. Continuous heart and breath rate monitoring helps to detect pain, fever or sleep disorders while the unit also detects wetness and sends an instant alarm alert.
Add-ons introduced in 2019 enable the monitoring system to handle renal monitoring and incontinence with automatic documentation.
The Cubile creates what is essentially a smart hospital bed, supporting healthcare workers, providing a safe environment for patients, reducing anxiety and stress while at the same time optimising the use of costly resources.
The unobtrusive unit saves time, increases safety, maximises personal freedom and protects privacy by detecting dangerous situations before they occur and transferring notifications to a nurse call system integrated into the Compute Module 3.
Using the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, extra features were added, such as a second CPU for data acquisition, a LAN isolated with 4kV, a fast USB load cell interface, wireless LAN and Bluetooth capabilities, and a built-in battery with charger.
Some medical engineering products have working lifetimes of between 10 and 15 years. While the Compute Module 3 has a guaranteed lifetime of five years, the Compute Module 3+ offers a life‑span of up to seven years, so customers can be confident that it will be available until at least 2026.
Medical engineering company Kontron also operates a substantial storage facility filled with nitrogen to enable components to be kept in stock for periods of up to seven years without ageing, making it easier for customers to plan and implement their migration paths. All the solutions that the company offers its customers are customised to specific requirements depending on the end use of the product.
For initial testing it offers, with support from Farnell, the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 industrial starter kit which has additional interfaces, such as analogue/digital input and output ports, a second 10/100Mbit Ethernet port, a 24V power supply, a CAN-Bus bus standard, a one-wire interface, RS485/RS232 serial device connections and the Raspian OS with driver and demos pre‑installed. These extra features allow customers to have a functional prototype up and running rapidly, using the same software as on a standard Compute Module 3 but with the ability to customise to provide whatever capability the customer is looking for.
While Kontron has developed several off-the-shelf boards with standard interfaces to meet the demands of the IoT, the vast majority of the projects it has worked on have been based on customised products. Customers can receive input and advice to a specific request to optimise a design.
Many of the company’s medical engineering customers specify the Raspberry Pi Compute Module because they require a straightforward migration path for their equipment. The Raspberry Pi fulfils this criterion, offering a software‑compatible system that works efficiently and satisfies all the applicable certifications in the medical equipment environment.
In addition, the Compute Module 3 and 3+ offer what is widely acknowledged as one of the best priced‑CPU performance ratios and is a viable, long-term solution.
The use of the Raspberry Pi in medical electronics applications is expected to grow at a steady pace, although the increase is unlikely to be dramatic, as the platform has established itself firmly in this sector.
Over the next 12 months, Kontron’s experience suggests that there is likely to be an increase in the Compute Module 3 and Compute Module 3+ being used in more industrial applications where the Compute Module is proving itself to be an extremely versatile and powerful alternative.
There is a growing number of engineers educated with the Raspberry Pi platform. While most current engineering graduates will have some experience of CPUs from companies such as Intel, AMD or NXP, most will have worked on projects with the Raspberry Pi and this means that when they start to work on a new project it will more than likely be with the Compute Module 3 or 3+. These engineers are familiar with the platform, know its capabilities and know how to use it.
It is no exaggeration to say that in 2019 most engineers looking to develop prototypes, whether in the medical electronics or industrial sectors, will have had positive experiences with the Raspberry Pi and this will be the driving force behind the product being more widely used for the foreseeable future.