Starting with the discovery of x-rays, medical imaging has played an ever-increasing role in helping healthcare providers identify issues, make accurate diagnoses, and provide treatments. While video interfaces are a small part of an overall medical vision system, choosing the right product will deliver significant design advantages for manufacturers, cost-savings for healthcare providers, and performance benefits to help improve patient comfort and care. Author: John Phillips, Senior Marketing Manager, Pleora Technologies Inc., Canada Minimizing Cost and Complexity Traditionally, medical vision systems have used point-to-point connections between a camera sensor or detector and a computer (PC) based on proprietary, LVDS, or Camera Link® interfaces. Developing proprietary interfaces is risky, expensive, and time-consuming, while the limitations of legacy interfaces drive up cost and system complexity. For example, in applications where images are displayed across multiple screens – such as image-guided surgery – legacy interfaces require each camera and display panel to communicate over a dedicated connection, often including a PC, frame grabber, or display controller.
This changed with the launch in 2006 of GigE Vision®, which standardizes video transfer and device control over Gigabit Ethernet (GigE), 10 GigE, and wireless Ethernet networks. With GigE Vision, cameras, displays, and processing computers can be integrated into a networked real-time video system, simplifying the design of multi-screen applications such as image-guided surgery and eliminating the need for legacy point-to-point interfaces.
GigE Vision-compliant video interfaces for medical vision systems are now widely available, including embedded hardware for camera sensors and display panels, and external frame grabbers that allow system manufacturers to easily upgrade existing diagnostic imaging systems to GigE Vision, while preserving investments in cameras, sensors, and processing systems.
Fig. 1 (NTx-GigE): Embedded video interface hardware provides manufacturers with off-the-shelf, standards-compliant solutions to integrate GigE, 10 GigE and GigE over wireless video connectivity into medical vision systems
By deploying an off-the-shelf, GigE Vision-compliant interface solution, system manufacturers can boost system value by focusing development resources on image analysis functionality, while speeding time-to-market, reducing risk, and lowering costs.
With GigE interfaces, imaging data is received using Ethernet ports that already exist in most computing platforms. As a result, designers eliminate the need for internal frame grabbers to connect cameras to the PC, and can lower component costs, minimize footprint, and reduce system complexity by migrating to PCs with smaller form factors, such as embedded PCs, single-board computers, and laptops.
Even in applications where images need to be transmitted through umbilical connections, the more flexible, field-terminated Ethernet cables cost less and are simple to install and maintain than the bulky cabling and connectors of legacy interfaces. Ethernet also delivers extended reach – up to 100 meters between system elements over standard copper cabling – and even greater distances with switches or fiber extenders.
Benefits in Advanced Vision Systems
Cost advantages, performance benefits, and interoperability to avoid sole-source systems are important considerations for hospital administrators seeking new imaging solutions for the examination and operating room.
In digital radiography applications, GigE interfaces eliminate the need for a computing platform with a peripheral card slot. Systems with legacy video interfaces such as Camera Link or LVDS can be converted easily to GigE with “plug-and-play” external frame grabbers; allowing hospitals to preserve capital investments in cameras, sensors and processing systems, while gaining the performance advantages of Ethernet. For example, with the extended reach of Ethernet, processing and image analysis equipment for operating room applications can be located outside the sterile environment. As a result, operating costs are reduced because remotely located equipment doesn’t have to be repeatedly sterilized, staff efficiencies are improved because data can be more easily shared across multiple departments, and the risk of patient infection is reduced.
Fig. 2: An x-ray detector sends images over an existing interface to an external frame grabber, where they are converted to GigE Vision and multicast to display workstations
Interfaces based on the GigE Vision standard also speed the design and boost the performance of more advanced medical imaging applications. In full-motion video applications, for example fluoroscopy that uses multiple moving x-ray sources to obtain real-time images of a patient, legacy umbilical interfaces such as Camera Link and LVDS are uneconomical and cumbersome. With GigE interfaces, multiple image sources can be transmitted simultaneously over a switched Ethernet network to a processor for 3D image generation.
For patients with limited mobility, GigE Vision delivered over an 802.11 wireless link allows portable x-ray panels to be positioned comfortably without fear of cable entanglement. The wireless interface also simplifies design and boost performance of vision systems in robots used for a widening range of modalities in clinical, hospital, and home-based care, including surgical and telepresence applications.
For robot manufacturers, an off-the-shelf GigE wireless interface shortens time-to-market and allows R&D resources to be focused on construction, image transfer, and data analysis. Further, by eliminating frame grabbers within the robot and using remote computing for real-time image processing, manufacturers reduce system complexity, lower component count and costs, while reducing weight and power consumption to extend battery life.
GigE Vision standard compliance is increasingly a “checkmark” for healthcare providers as they evaluate products from different vendors. Designing or upgrading systems with off-the-shelf GigE Vision interfaces allows manufacturers to shorten time-to-market, reduce risk, and lower system cost and complexity, while delivering interoperability and performance benefits to enhance the value of their solutions.