Samplify Systems has been blazing new trails since the introduction last year of a reference design for an analog front-end (AFE) receiver for ultrasound applications (see “Ultrasound Reference Design Propels Medical Imaging”).
With Samplify’s AutoFocus beamforming technology, now available as part of a complete development kit, the company’s devices and technology are offered to OEMs in a form that’s easier to design into products while expediting time-to-market. The AutoFocus beamforming technology is the cornerstone of the kit, enabling a complete solution from probe connector to PCI Express connector.
“The ultrasound market is rapidly fragmenting into many specialty niches with many companies entering this market to fill these niches. However, the ‘special sauce’ for such companies is not in the analog front end, but in image or signal processing, or some specialty market like surgical, military, or ambulance applications,” says Allan Evans, Samplify Systems vice president of marketing.
“What is unique about our beamforming technology is that it completes the signal chain for this type of manufacturer and allows us to provide a complete solution by way of the development kit. Otherwise, they would have to buy a ‘bag of parts’ from traditional semiconductor IC vendors and try to piece them together themselves,” he adds.
“With Samplify’s development platform, a new ultrasound machine can be brought to market up to one year earlier. One year of extra revenue returns millions of dollars to those manufacturers, even if they sell only 1000 machines a year,” Evans says.
AutoFocus uses phased array processing, called QuadBeam, to combine the received signals from each channel to generate four scan-line outputs for each transmission. The AutoFocus name comes from an on-board calculation engine that automatically calculates the phased array processing coefficients, eliminating the need for external DSP chips or coefficient memory. Samplify maintains that this approach maximizes the frame rates by reducing the overhead to calculate the coefficients.
The beamforming development kit leverages the proven performance and low power of the company’s ultrasound AFE reference design. Samplify has shrunk the 32-channel reference design onto an ultra-small 204-pin small-outline dual in-line memory module (SO-DIMM), which the company now offers as a standard product (Fig. 1).
The modules can be mounted in two different form factors: a 46- by 67.6-mm flat-mounting configuration for portables and a 10- by 67.6-mm vertical-mounting configuration for high-channel-count machines. They’re available in two versions to support machines requiring optional continuous-wave Doppler (CWD) mode (Fig. 2).
The base version features a receive chain that includes a transmit/receive switch, a low-noise amplifier, a variable-gain amplifier, an anti-aliasing filter, and an analog-to-digital converter (ADC). The CWD version adds a second analog beamforming data path with built-in mixers, local-oscillator distribution, and summed I/Q current outputs. The design platform provides the lowest power consumption of 100 mW per receive channel while delivering up to 6-dB higher dynamic range than competitive AFE solutions.
Reaching the Market Sooner
“Time-to-market for a new ultrasound machine can take years due to the difficulty of isolating the source of image artifacts to the analog, beamforming, or software domains during system integration and clinical trials,” says Daniel Kreindler, director of medical marketing for Samplify.
“The only way ultrasound OEMs can evaluate the performance of their analog front-end beamforming algorithm and image processing is to look at a final image. Samplify’s Ultrasound Beamforming Development lets them easily do this so they can focus on their core differentiating technologies,” he adds.
Samplify’s ultrasound development kit supports post-processing with an interface to a PC host via USB 2.0 or 4x PCI Express 1.1. Tri-level pulsers and a transmit beamformer support transmission for all black and white and color modes. Also, the kit includes a continuously variable power supply for the high-voltage path.
Further, Samplify provides a Windows software driver to control all the hardware, as well as an image-processing stack for generating images. The software is fully forward-compatible with future ASIC and module products from the company.