New approach to ultrasound technology could reduce cost

Researchers at North Carolina State University in the US have demonstrated a new technique for creating ultrasound images claimed to be simpler than existing techniques.

Whilst conventional ultrasonic imaging requires acoustic scanning over a target object using a piezoelectric transducer array, followed by signal processing to reconstruct the image, the new device effectively eliminates the electrical signal processing. The group claims that this could help significantly lower the cost of the ultrasound devices.

The group’s work could pave the way for less expensive ultrasound technology. Image: New Africa via stock.adobe.com

The researchers have developed a receiver that incorporates a piezoelectric crystal and an organic light-emitting diode (OLED). When an ultrasonic wave hits the crystal, it produces voltage, which causes the OLED to light up. In other words, the image appears on the OLED screen, which is built into the receiver itself.

“Our prototype is a proof-of-concept, so we designed it with an OLED array that is 10 pixels by 10 pixels; the resolution isn’t great,” said Professor Franky So, co-author of a paper on the technology in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces “However, I can easily make it 500 pixels by 500 pixels, boosting the resolution substantially.”

“Conventional ultrasound imaging probes can cost upward of $100,000 because they contain thousands of transducer array elements, which drives up manufacturing costs,” So says. “We can make ultrasound receiver-display units for $100 or so.”

“This is really a completely new field for ultrasound, so we’re only beginning to explore the potential applications,” said the paper’s co-author Xiaoning Jiang.  “However, there are obvious near-term applications, such as non-destructive testing, evaluation and inspections in the context of structural health monitoring.”

The researchers are interested in collaborating with industry partners to explore commercial applications.