One of the technologies that caught my imagination this week was that of wireless healthcare sensors, prompted by my story on Irish sensor developer, ST+D (see 'Sensor technology firm wins backing for medical trial').
ST+D's objectives bear some similarities to a number of other research teams I have come across in my travels, not least another Irish university spin-out, BiancaMed Ltd. In fact, BiancaMed focuses on developing software and sensors for monitoring personal health in everyday life, whilst ST+D is focused purely on clinical, mainly cardiological applications. But this matters not, as the market potential for both clinical and personal health monitoring is generally considered vast. Analyst firm Databeans suggests that the market for medical semiconductors, worth $2.4 billion in 2006, increased by around 11 percent in 2007, with similar growth projections for this year.
The opportunities presented by health-related electronics have had semiconductor companies salivating for a number of years. Many have sought to build strong relationships with the major medical device manufacturers in order to tailor their ics to emerging medical applications. As a result, you'll find that companies such as Analog Devices' offer portfolios of high performance signal processing solutions specifically for medical applications, and their data converters, amplifiers, microcontrollers, low dropout regulators and MEMS devices integrated into ultrasound, CT and PET scanners, ECGs, infusion pumps, blood analysis systems, pulse oximetry, and automated external defibrillators, to name but a few. Nevertheless, portable health monitoring will be where the volume is and that will demand much tighter ic integration.
This week at the annual Freescale Technology Forum, Freescale's chief technology officer Lisa Su envisioned a future where there are 1,000 embedded devices per person. Su explained that healthcare monitoring applications could be a primary driver of this vision. Take a look at the article The future according to Freescale
By 2015, Su sees Freescale meeting these and other needs with processor and sensors that will also include MEMS and optical devices, wireless connectivity and voice recognition. It is clear that the medical sector is already proving the inspiration for a good deal of analog and mixed signal innovation, but there is much more to come.