Engineers at the University of British Columbia have created an ultrasound transducer, or probe, that could reduce the cost of ultrasound scanners to $100. The wearable innovation is no bigger than a Band-Aid and can be powered by a smartphone.
Usually, ultrasound scanners use piezoelectric crystals that create images inside the body, which are sent to a computer to create sonograms. Researchers replaced the piezoelectric crystals with vibrating drums made of polymer resin, also known as polyCMUTs (polymer capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducers), that are cheaper to manufacture.
“Transducer drums have typically been made out of rigid silicon materials that require costly, environment-controlled manufacturing processes, and this has hampered their use in ultrasound,” said study author Carlos Gerardo, a PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering at UBC, according to UBC. “By using polymer resin, we were able to produce polyCMUTs in fewer fabrication steps, using a minimum amount of equipment, resulting in significant cost savings.”
The sonograms produced by the UBC device were just as sharp, if not more detailed, as the traditional sonograms, said co-author Edmond Cretu, professor of electrical and computer engineering.
“Since our transducer needs just 10 volts to operate, it can be powered by a smartphone, making it suitable for use in remote or low-power locations,” he added. “And unlike rigid ultrasound probes, our 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 dramatically increasing costs.”
The next step in this research is to develop a range of prototypes to test the device in an actual clinic-setting, said co-autho Robert Rohling, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.
“You could miniaturize these transducers and use them to look inside your arteries and veins. You could stick them on your chest and do live continuous monitoring of your heart in your daily life. It opens up so many different possibilities,” said Rohling.