Smartphone Ultrasound – Engineers at the University of British Columbia have developed new ultrasound transducers, or probes, which can dramatically reduce the cost of ultrasound scanners to just $ 100. Their pending patent innovation – no bigger than Band-Aid – is portable, can be worn and can be supported by smartphone.
Conventional ultrasound scanners use piezoelectric crystals to make images of the inside of the body and send them to a computer to make sonograms. Researchers replaced piezoelectric crystals with small vibrating drums made of polymer resins, called polyCMUTs (polymer capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducers), which are cheaper to produce.
“Drum transducers are usually made of rigid silicon material that requires high cost, environmentally controlled manufacturing processes, and this has hampered its use in ultrasound,” said study lead author Carlos Gerardo, PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering at UBC. “By using polymer resins, we are able to produce polyCMUT in fewer fabrication steps, using a minimum amount of equipment, resulting in significant cost savings.”
The sonograms produced by UBC devices are as sharp or even more detailed than the traditional sonograms produced by piezoelectric transducers, said co-author Edmond Cretu, professor of electrical and computer engineering.
“Because our transducers only need 10 volts to operate, they can be supported by smartphones, making them suitable for use in remote or low-power locations,” he added. “And unlike rigid ultrasound probes, our transducers have the potential to be built into flexible materials that can be wrapped around the body for easier scanning and more detailed views – without dramatically increasing costs.”
Co-author, Robert Rohling, also a professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the next step in this research was to develop various prototypes and finally test their devices in clinical applications.
“You can shrink this transducer and use it to look inside your arteries and veins. You can stick it to your chest and do continuous monitoring of your heart in your daily life. This opens up so many different possibilities,” Rohling said.
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