Canada's Clarius eyes the Asian market with handheld ultrasound scanners armed with cutting-edge AMD chips

Jerry Chen, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Established in 2014, Clarius, a Canada-based company with 150 staff around the world, made waves in the medical imaging realm with the introduction of one of the pioneering handheld ultrasound scanners. Now, Clarius is steering its ambitions towards the expansive Asian market, actively pursuing strategic partnerships for distribution and production. In a bid to understand and navigate the nuances of the Taiwanese market, the company has forged a partnership with the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT) through its CTA program.

During an interview with DIGITIMES Asia, Clarius CTO Kris Dickie shed light on their overarching mission: to encapsulate cart-based ultrasound image quality into handheld devices, emphasizing cost-effectiveness, mobility, and AI-enabled streamlined workflows. Through continuous refinement over three generations, Clarius has not only enhanced device performance but also made it more compact and versatile.

A diverse lineup for specific medical needs

Differentiating from industry giants like General Electric and Philips, Clarius boasts a diverse lineup of ten handheld wireless ultrasound scanners, with seven for the general human market and three devices for the veterinary market. Dickie stresses the company's core specialties are in areas like musculoskeletal imaging, plastic surgery, and facial aesthetics, in which they redefine point-of-care ultrasound, offering precision and safety in diagnostics and procedures.

Pioneering collaboration with AMD

At the heart of Clarius' revolutionary handheld ultrasound devices lies a groundbreaking collaboration with semiconductor giant AMD. The Clarius CTO underscored the pivotal role of Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) technology, a specialized processing unit akin to a CPU. This collaboration allows Clarius to harness the power of AMD's FPGA technology, known for its high performance and low power consumption. Unlike traditional ultrasound systems that rely on expensive custom chips, Clarius leverages FPGA to efficiently run specialized algorithms for digital signal processing, facilitating the incorporation of advanced signal processing units within the compact handheld unit.

The System on Chip (SoC) design on Clarius devices, enables 99% of signal processing to occur within the handheld unit itself. This efficient architecture, powered by AMD's FPGA technology, stands in stark contrast to competitor devices that often rely on external processing. The use of AMD's low-power, high-performance chips ensures that Clarius devices maintain a small form factor without compromising on computing capabilities. By utilizing the FPGA technology, they were able to fit more of the signal processing units inside its special architecture. Dickie states their handheld unit is equipped with eight beamformers, which means that when transmitting the ultrasound beam, it could process eight different signals in parallel - a feat normally only seen on a cart-based device - offering eight times higher quality image than their competitors' products. To put it into perspective, the Clarius CTO says the majority of handheld competitors only implement one beamformer.

In addition to their collaboration with AMD, Clarius actively engages with other semiconductor manufacturers for specialized components, particularly in the analog front end responsible for ultrasound transmission and reception. This collaborative approach allows Clarius to stay at the forefront of technological advancements, often being among the first to market with cutting-edge semiconductor chips. The company's close relationship with AMD enables them early access to designs, facilitating input on performance requirements and power efficiency.

Strategic Expansion into Asian Markets

Lucy Cao, Clarius CFO, says the company has traditionally focused on North America and the EU markets. She outlined the company's plans to expand beyond its core markets and into Asia, targeting countries like Taiwan due to its advanced healthcare system. "Regulatory approval is already in place for importing Clarius devices into Taiwan", she says. Similar considerations are being explored for Japan and South Korea.

In pursuit of global growth, Clarius actively seeks distribution partners and aims to establish operational bases in potential markets.

With a production supply chain primarily in Asia, and final assembly based in Vancouver, Canada, Cao stresses their current setup ensures stringent quality control, with a mere 0.2% product return rate.

Evolving into a holistic ecosystem

Clarius is not just a hardware provider; it's evolving into a holistic medical imaging ecosystem. CTO Kris Dickie mentioned their marketplace, connecting partners through AI and cloud services. Third-party AI developers integrate with Clarius devices, enhancing physician services. The cloud platform serves as both an archive and an educational tool, bridging knowledge gaps for new ultrasound users.

Democratize medical imaging

Clarius aims to democratize medical imaging, with approximately 70% of its sales going to new ultrasound users who previously lacked access due to cost and complexity. The integration of AI in point-of-care ultrasound not only improves workflow and reduces device complexity but also acts as an educational tool, guiding users in understanding anatomical details.

As Clarius endeavors to penetrate the Asian market, its commitment to innovation, quality, and comprehensive medical imaging solutions positions it as a prominent player in the global healthcare market.

Photo: Clarius CTO Kris Dickie

Photo: Clarius CTO Kris Dickie

Photo: Clarius CFO Lucy Cao

Photo: Clarius CFO Lucy Cao

Credit: Clarius