Researchers have developed a new ultrasound transducer that could dramatically lower the cost of ultrasound scanners to as little as $100. Conventional ultrasound scanners use piezoelectric crystals to create images of the inside of the body and send them to a computer to create sonograms. The piezoelectric crystals were replaced with tiny vibrating drums made of polymer resin, called polyCMUTs (polymer capacitive micromachined ultrasound transducers), which are cheaper to manufacture.
Transducer drums have typically been made out of rigid silicon materials that require costly, environment-controlled manufacturing processes, which has hampered their use in ultrasound. Using polymer resin, polyCMUTs were produced in fewer fabrication steps using a minimum amount of equipment, which results in cost savings.
Since the 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. Unlike rigid ultrasound probes, it 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. Sonograms produced by the device were as sharp as or even more detailed than traditional sonograms produced by piezoelectric transducers.
The transducers could be miniaturized and used to look inside arteries and veins.