Methods of optimising energy and safety in BLE medical gadgets – TechToday

Estimated read time 7 min read
Ways of optimising power and security in BLE medical devices – TechToday

Nicola Wrachien, workers options architect and Brian Blum, senior product advertising and marketing supervisor – Silicon Labs, outlines some sensible approaches to optimising energy and safety in Bluetooth low vitality medical gadgets.


For the healthcare trade, other than improved hygiene, diminished bacterial unfold, and easier logistics, the idea of linked, disposable medical gadgets will make it attainable to supply safer, extra cost-efficient medical gadgets to a broader inhabitants, as exemplified by the continual glucose monitor (GGM). Nevertheless, disposable medical gadgets have to be changed periodically, that means that the invoice of supplies (BOM) have to be saved as little as attainable to be economically enticing. This text discusses two important (and interrelated) challenges – safety and energy consumption – to realising sensible disposable medical gadgets powered by coin cell batteries and utilizing the Bluetooth Low Power (BLE) communications protocol. It additionally considers some sensible options Silicon Labs proposes to handle them.

Balancing privateness and safety with cryptographic overheads

Sufferers and clinicians use knowledge from distant medical gadgets to tell their decision-making about remedies that means corrupt knowledge can have extreme penalties for affected person well being. They will occur intentionally (undesirable intrusion by a 3rd get together) or unintentionally (because of environmental interference) as knowledge travels from a tool to the purpose of research. Privateness can also be essential for medical gadgets. Even detecting a tool’s presence may be considered a privateness leak. One other privacy-related safety concern is intruders might use an unprotected gadget to trace a wearer’s actions. Subsequently, they need to not carry data which might enable their detection by an unauthorised third get together.

Offloading safety from the gadget microcontroller

Cryptographic methods like authentication and encryption will help to mitigate safety and privateness considerations, however implementing these could be very computing intensive, requiring elevated energy consumption and adversely affecting battery life. A strategy to overcome this, which additionally will increase gadget safety is to retailer root encryption keys in a separate safety core which communicates with the first gadget microcontroller by means of a mailbox system (as a substitute of shared reminiscence); the safety core receives encrypted keys, along with the info to be decrypted/encrypted from the primary microcontroller, decrypts the encryption key utilizing the basis key, then communicates the encrypted/decrypted knowledge to the primary microcontroller utilizing the identical mailbox system.

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Separate {hardware} accelerators

Intruders generally use differential energy evaluation (DPA) to bypass cryptographic methods. This method entails analysing gadget energy consumption whereas encryption operations are being carried out, which can be utilized to establish encryption keys. For that reason, many gadget producers implement DPA countermeasures, however these improve computing time, energy consumption and circuit complexity. Moreover, utilizing a separate safe aspect may result in elevated energy consumption because of the further overhead because of communication between the safe aspect and the primary core. A attainable answer is to make use of two {hardware} accelerators – one on the primary microcontroller managing the wi-fi communications protocol (prioritising velocity and low energy) and the opposite on the safe core. Whereas which means encryption/decryption operations could also be barely slower, it presents better robustness and safety.

Matching energy consumption to product lifetime 

A tool’s battery should strike the optimum stability between having a sensible kind issue and offering enough energy over a tool’s usable lifetime. A number of the different elements that have an effect on the lifetime of a wearable medical gadget embody chemical degradation and hygiene. A glucose monitor, for instance, has a microneedle coated with glucose oxidase. When inserted subcutaneously, the needle suffers a level of chemical degradation over time, regularly impacting gadget efficiency. Hygiene impacts not solely a tool’s usable lifetime but additionally its design. To sluggish the proliferation of micro organism, a tool have to be water and sweat resistant as this is able to impacts electronics reliability by prematurely discharging the battery if the gadget just isn’t hermetically sealed. Nevertheless, sealing prevents the battery from being accessed, that means alternative just isn’t an choice. Minimising energy consumption permits utilizing decrease capability (and therefore smaller, lighter and decrease price) batteries. This helps cut back the BOM, dimension and weight and makes disposable gadgets extra snug to put on over an prolonged interval. 

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Optimising radio operation

The radio subsystem is among the many most power-hungry peripherals in an RF System on a Chip (SoC). Transmit and obtain operations can dramatically impression the battery’s lifetime, that means an apparent strategy to decrease energy consumption is to cut back transmit energy. In a wearable gadget, the gap to a receiving smartphone is normally comparatively small, so the transmit energy stage is within the 0-dBm vary. Aside from decreasing distance, a strategy to optimise radio operation energy utilization is to cut back the length of transmit/obtain occasions relative to silent durations (the RF responsibility cycle). This may be finished by adjusting the promoting and connection intervals. Desk 1 reveals the present consumption measurement as a perform of transmission energy and responsibility cycle on Silicon Labs’ EFR32BG1 Bluetooth SoC. This means that the responsibility cycle impacts present consumption considerably greater than transmission energy.

The place BLE 5.0 connectivity is on the market, Silicon Labs’ 2M PHY, which transmits twice as quick as BLE 4.0, successfully halves the info transmission time, decreasing energy consumption by 15% for a 25-ms connection interval.

Decreasing shelf mode energy consumption 

Logistically, a tool might spend a lot of its lifetime in storage (shelf mode). It is because after it’s manufactured, it may very well be a number of months earlier than it’s bought by a buyer, particularly in a protracted provide chain. One more reason is that typically a buyer may solely want to make use of the product for a number of weeks or months after buy (widespread with disposables). Nevertheless, with out correct design, a tool’s battery might proceed to empty, decreasing its helpful lifetime, or, in a worst-case situation, the battery may very well be drained solely earlier than a buyer will get to make use of the gadget. To forestall this, many shopper gadgets have a skinny detachable plastic insulator between one battery contact and the battery holder. Sadly, disposable medical gadgets can not use this method as they’re generally hermetically sealed.

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A strategy to remedy this challenge is to position a tool in a low-power state from which it wakes up sporadically, advertises its presence, and waits for a central gadget to attach earlier than pairing or returning to a low-power state. Nevertheless, this answer just isn’t excellent as a result of it requires a really lengthy promoting interval, rising the time wanted for a tool to affiliate with a smartphone app. Moreover, the gadget nonetheless has to transmit promoting packets – shelf mode present consumption, which isn’t negligible (Determine 2).

A superior choice is to supply {an electrical} means to activate a tool from a really low energy state. For instance, the microcontroller might have a power-enable sign which, when in an lively state, is used to allow inner energy provides for normal operation. Alternatively, exterior circuitry may be added to generate the allow sign utilizing a mechanical (or magnetic) change or energy-harvesting circuitry based mostly on a photovoltaic or a close to discipline contact-less (NFC) sensor. Present consumption ranges beneath 100 nA can maintain a tool for a few years in shelf mode with out considerably draining the battery. This implies the battery just isn’t the limiting issue impacting a tool’s lifetime relative to the beforehand talked about hygiene and materials degradation elements.


This text mentioned two interrelated challenges – safety and energy consumption – to realising sensible disposable medical gadgets. It additionally offered some sensible options to those challenges proposed by Silicon Labs’ to allow the healthcare trade to supply extra hygienic, safer, cost-efficient disposable medical gadgets to a broader inhabitants.

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