FPGA development boards have applications to a whole host of different industries. They are the most popular devices in precision weaponry and even in the cloud. However, FPGA boards are now used in the medical industry, as they offer tremendous benefits over traditional semiconductors. These boards have taken the industry by storm, and we slowly see them being used for many different types of medical tasks.
What Is An FPGA
An FPGA is called a field-programmable gate array. It is essentially a semiconductor with a blank slate. Your microprocessor can execute instructions, but it can only do that if the instructions are something it understands. Similarly, your graphics processing unit only knows how to do calculations and render an image on the screen. They come from the factory fixed to do a specific task.
However, an FPGA comes from the factory as a blank semiconductor chip that you need to program to do something. You could potentially program your board to operate exactly as your microprocessor or graphics processing unit. However, these devices are mostly used in industries where they don’t have dedicated processors for specific tasks. It is easy to program, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money manufacturing dedicated silicon. You can also change the programming as you learn more information, making these devices very flexible.
How Do They Work
An FPGA works very similarly at a transistor level, but the abstraction above makes all the difference. While it uses transistors like every other semiconductor, it also has reprogrammable gates that act as memory. It is essentially memory that you can reprogram to execute instructions. The basic unit of an FPGA is called a logical element. These logical elements can be connected to each other to form execution units. This ability to reconfigure themselves to changes in programming is what makes all the difference.
Options In the Industry
There are many variations of FPGAs, and they depend on the manufacturer you go with. The two main rivals in this industry are Altera and Xilinx. These FPGA boards come with associated connections and also all the software you need to program your board. There are many medical application uses of FPGA by Altera. These applications vary widely, which is why FPGAs are used in the first place.
FPGA Applications in the Medical Industry
The medical industry has moved from primitive solutions to a lot of technology over time. However, the processing technology has not caught up so quickly. There are many machines with data streaming off of them that need a processor, but there isn’t enough demand for these dedicated processors to be created. This is one of the many medical application uses of FPGA by Altera. You can essentially use FPGAs for every single medical application. It allows you to save on hardware development costs, which are substantial in the modern world. As medical technology grows, we will see more FPGA devices in these machines.
Usage for Instrumentation
A huge development has been in instrumentation. Many medical devices are there to take data from someone’s body and store it in a database. Many smart devices can tell you your heart rate and even the oxygenation levels of your blood. All of these devices need processing technology to run calculations on that data.
Since these devices are not so widespread, FPGA boards are used in place of dedicated processors. It allows medical device manufacturers to create devices that wouldn’t be possible with traditional processing technology. These devices can now transmit a lot of information, and the manufacturer can simply program the FPGA to decode and analyze that information.
Usage for Prototyping
Prototyping is another important part of hardware development. Many sensors need custom processors to work properly. However, it does not make sense to create a dedicated processor until you can confirm that the device will work well. You can use FPGAs in place of those dedicated processors, so your prototypes will work without a lot of technological investment. This type of innovation is critical to the future of medical device development.
Another advantage of using an FPGA board is all the peripherals they come with. This means you get an easy-to-integrate package that almost every medical device manufacturer can grow expertise in. It is also useful in medical robots, which have many sensors that need custom processing to work properly.
Usage for Processing Signals
Signal processing is the next place where FPGA boards can be used in the medical field. Almost every major electronic device in the medical field needs some sort of processing. For example, a CAT scan needs a lot of electronic technology to work properly. However, there are no off-the-shelf solutions to get them to work. It is a lot easier to integrate an FPGA into your machine than create a whole new processor from scratch.
Medical Imaging Applications
Medical imaging is also another field that needs FPGA boards. While it is possible to use a graphics processing unit, they are liable to run hot and not be the exact specifications that a hospital needs. That is why it makes a lot more sense to use an FPGA board to do custom processing instead of a graphics processing unit. It also makes sense because you can be sure that when the machines change the way they work, you can easily program the FPGA to still work. It saves money on hardware development costs, which is a huge deal in the medical device field. This is an industry that has machines costing millions of dollars. Anything developers can do to save money is going to be appreciated.
Usage in Life Sciences
Genomics is going to be a huge field in the future. As we get more information about DNA and decode it, we will need more processing technology to do it quickly. FPGA boards will continue to be the standard in this industry. They are flexible enough to allow you to change how you process genomic information quickly and efficiently. These boards are also cheap when you compare them to manufacturing a processor from scratch. These boards will continue to help people find cures for rare diseases and other challenges in this scientific field.
A huge number of medical equipment needs hardware implementation of certain algorithms. For example, x-ray machines need the implementation of a Fast Fourier Transform algorithm to work properly. However, it wouldn’t make any sense for a developer to create all of this from scratch. These backend processing algorithms are essential to getting these machines to work.
Machines like MRI, PET, and even CT all require hardware acceleration in the way they process data. This makes FPGA boards a must-have in this field. As data processing becomes an even more important part of this industry, we will see these boards being used in greater numbers. We will also see them being used in the development of new diagnostic equipment.
Future Usage of FPGA Development Boards
As FPGA boards get more powerful, they will become a more useful option where dedicated processors would normally be used. It is going to lead to a revolution in how smart devices can be. We also see robotic surgery being increasingly used in the medical field. These robots will gain new boards to do dedicated processing of certain functions. For example, machine learning and artificial intelligence will push FPGA boards to new heights. All of these things will lead to a computing revolution in the medical field.