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Yes, Let’s Put Ultrasound on a Smartphone

There’s a significant lack of affordable and accessible ultrasound services throughout the world. Machinery is bulky and expensive, and without insurance, patients often have to spend upwards of $200 on a single procedure. Nevada Sanchez, co-founder of Butterfly Network, is aiming to eliminate the financial and spatial hardships of ultrasound with iQ, a device the size of an electric razor that produces ultrasound images on a smartphone.

Ultrasound machines run on quartz crystals which vibrate when connected to an electric current. The crystals generate sound waves that can be rendered into images. Sanchez wanted to make the device cheaper, so instead of crystals, iQ operates on a chip. The chip consists of “micromachined ultrasound transducers” or metal plates sandwiched between two electrodes. The technology features 9,000 transducer channels that work in tandem with electronics to produce ultrasound images. “Essentially, it has almost half a trillion operations per second behind it to swallow data to get ultrasound in and image out in real time,” Sanchez told MIT News. The images are then sent to the cloud where anyone with granted access can analyze them.

iQ is marketed at $2,000 — a massive savings compared to traditional ultrasound machines which sell between $15,000 and $100,000. The device has already been touted as a success, and Butterfly Network received tens of thousands of order requests after it was granted Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance back in November 2017. Eventually, Sanchez hopes that the device will become as commonplace as a blood-pressure monitor and defibrillators in patients’ homes.

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