Major Breakthrough opens door to $100 ultrasound machine

Major break through in Ultrasound

Engineers at the University of British Columbia have major breakthrough in ultrasound transducer that could considerable lower the cost of ultrasound scanner to as little as $100. Their patent-pending information is no bigger than a Band-Aid, is portable, wearable and can be powered by a smartphone.

Conventional Ultrasound Scanners uses piezoelectric crystals to create image of the inside of the body and send them to a computer to create sonograms. Researchers replaced the piezoelectric crystal with tiny vibrating drums made of polymer resin, called polyCMUTs (polymer capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducers), which are cheap to manufacture.

Major break through in Ultrasound
UBC researchers (L-R): Edmond Cretu, Carlos D. Gerardo and Robert Rohling
Credits- Clare Kiernan, University of British Columbia

Transducer drums have been made of rigid silicon materials that require costly, environment-controlled manufacturing processes, and this has vulnerable their use in ultrasound, said study lead author Carlos Gerado, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering at UBC. “By using polymer resin, we were able to produce polyCMUTS in less fabrication steps, using a less amount of equipment, resulting in major cost savings”.

Sonograms produced by the UBC device were as sharp as or even more detailed than traditional sonograms produced by piezoelectric transducers, said co-author Edmond Cretu, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

He also added that our transducer needs only 10 volts to operate, it can be powered by a smartphone, making it appropriate for use in remote or low power location, he added. “Not like rigid ultrasound probes, transducer has the potential to be built into a flexible material that can be wrapped around the body for easier scanning and more detailed views without increasing costs.

Robert Rohling co-author and also a professor of electrical and computer engineering, told the next steps in the research is to develop a range of prototypes and eventually test their device in clinical applications.

You could miniaturize these transducer and use them to look inside your arteries and veins.  You can stick them to your chest and do live monitoring of your heart in your daily life. It opens up so many different possibilities, said Rohling.

The research was published recently in Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineerin.