Researchers at the University of British Columbia have created a new ultrasound transducer that could potentially lower the cost of ultrasound scanners to about $100. The new transducer is around the size of the Band-Aid, wearable and can be smartphone-powered.
Conventional ultrasound scanners use piezoelectric crystals to create images inside the body. Those images are then sent to computers, which create sonograms. Instead of piezoelectric crystals, the new device has tiny vibrating drums called polyCMUTs that are made of polymer resin. PolyCMUTs are cheaper to manufacture than piezoelectric crystals, lowering the price of ultrasound machines.
"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 lead author Carlos Gerardo, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering at 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."
UBC device produced sonograms that proved to be just as sharp or sharper than the sonograms produced by traditional ultrasound transducers.
"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 for this device is to develop a wide range of prototypes and then test those prototypes in clinical applications.
"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 co-author Robert Rohling.
The paper on this technology was published in Nature Microsystems and Nanoengineering.