Case study for the Argon Design project for Skin Disease Detection. – Electronic design services with Argon Design Ltd.

Medical Device - Skin Disease Detection

Skill sets used

Embedded products, Electronic engineering, FPGA logic, Software engineering, Product definition, Business advantage

The Challenge

Michelson Diagnostics asked us to engineer part of their next generation medical product, VivoSight, an imaging system allowing clinicians to view up to 3mm below the surface of the skin.

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This world-leading product uses a technique called Optical Coherence Tomography to provide highly detailed sub-surface images of the skin helping to avoid the need for invasive biopsies, informing the choice of treatment and subsequently monitoring progress of the treatment.

Michelson’s road map involved rationalising their product from a collection of interconnected components into a system-in-a-box. Within that context the primary objectives of our project were to:

  • Reduce cost
  • Simplify product architecture by reducing the number of sub-systems
  • Reduce reliance on third party equipment suppliers
  • Provide a flexible product platform for future in-house product enhancement

Our Approach

We started the project by developing a thorough understanding of the system in its current state. Using our in-depth design experience and skill-sets ranging from chip design to software, we evaluated and discussed with Michelson several options for the architecture. We agreed that we would address Michelson’s requirements by replacing two third-party PCIe cards with a single short length PCIe card, designed to provide precisely the functionality required by the product. Michelson would then own the intellectual property for a key sub-system component of the product, avoiding dependency on third party equipment suppliers and strengthening their business proposition. The new PCIe card would facilitate a pin compatible FPGA upgrade to provide extra capacity for possible future migration of the main image processing function from software on the host PC into the parallel processing architecture of the FPGA. As a part of the project, Argon would also develop PC driver software for the PCIe card, allowing our client to develop product features in-house.

We developed and agreed a project plan defining timescales, deliverables and budget. The project initially ran parallel engineering threads for hardware and software, bringing those elements together for integration testing and delivery to Michelson.

Hardware:-

  • Define, write and agree interface specifications – it was particularly important to fully understand and capture the comprehensive digital and analogue requirements of the sensor interface
  • Write detailed specifications for the new PCIe card
  • Research and select strategic components
  • Design PCIe card – a complex mixed signal board using four lanes of PCIe. We took regular feedback from Michelson during this phase to ensure that the design would meet their requirements
  • Build and test initial batch of 3 PCIe cards

Software:-

  • Write detailed specifications for the PCIe FPGA software
  • Write detailed specification of the PC driver for the PCIe Card
  • Design/Code/Test FPGA and PC driver software

Integration and Delivery:-

  • Write integration test specification
  • Test functionality of all hardware and software as an integrated system
  • Deliver software and initial batch of PCIe cards to the client for performance evaluation
  • Provide technical support

Throughout the entire project, we worked in line with our Quality Control processes and maintained excellent two-way communications with the Michelson team.

The Outcome

The close working relationship between Argon and Michelson through all stages of the project ensured that the deliverables would meet Michelson’s expectations in terms of technical performance, costs and timescales. As a result of Argon’s rigorous design approach the initial batch of boards was able to fully meet Michelson’s requirements – the new PCIe card was not only compact but delivered high performance with a very low noise floor. Michelson’s evaluation demonstrated that the new card and its associated software met all of their requirements, offering a proven design that would significantly reduce the overall cost of their system. The design provides a cost-effective solution optimised for the current requirements, while provision for a pin-compatible FPGA upgrade also allows flexibility for future developments as the roadmap evolves.

The card is now in production and in daily use in VivoSight systems worldwide.

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