Ultrasonic medical devices are becoming more portable and affordable.
Angiosurgeon John Martin tested a portable ultrasound device developed by Butterfly Network earlier this year. He tried it out for a reason, but with a personal goal: to check what is wrong with the throat. The fact is that for a long time, Martin experienced discomfort - for example, when swallowing.
He put the device to his throat and looked at the phone screen, where the image immediately appeared, the appearance of which is familiar to everyone who has ever undergone an ultrasound. The doctor saw on the screen some kind of blackout with a diameter of three centimeters. He has no experience in oncology, but Martin understood that something was wrong.
After passing the examination it turned out that this is a malignant formation, squamous cell carcinoma. The device he used is called Butterfly IQ. This is the first portable ultrasound device that has passed the testing stage and entered the US market.
Usually, ultrasound is generated using a special crystal or ceramic. The system with crystals is quite complicated, its production is expensive. The same device uses a slightly different method, instead of a crystal or ceramic, a specialized chip is installed here. The main functional part of the chip is capacitive ultrasonic micro transducers. In such an apparatus, ultrasonic generators are embedded in a semiconductor wafer, along with chips and processors.
According to the manufacturer, it allows to reduce the cost of production of ultrasonic devices, making them more versatile. The cost of the system is $ 1999. Yes, the amount is rather big, but it is cheaper than any other portable ultrasound device.
According to the developers, Butterfly IQ is available to a broad category of customers, and this is not about hospitals, which are usually customers of manufacturers of ultrasonic devices. Butterfly IQ is designed for the normal consumer market.
By the way, in most hospitals, ultrasound systems are not portable at all. These are large and massive devices installed in special cabinets. They are used for various purposes - from examining the heart to examining the joints of the legs. The cost of such stationary devices is tens and hundreds of thousands of US dollars.
Butterfly IQ did not appear suddenly - it took eight years to develop it. Creator - Jonathan Rotberg, a scientist and entrepreneur from the United States. He founded a DNA sequencing company as well as an incubator 4Combinator. Butterfly Network, the company from which Butterfly IQ came out, one of the most expensive, but at the same time promising projects. Portable ultrasound was conceived as a tool that could help Rotberg's daughter suffering from tuberous sclerosis. This disease is characterized by the appearance of tumors in the kidneys, for which constant monitoring is necessary. Ultrasound is one way to do this.
This is what portable ultrasound devices from hospitals look like.
After eight years of work on the device, Butterfly IQ appeared, and the Butterfly Network company is now valued at $ 100 million. The closest analogue of the device is Philips Lumify, priced at $ 6,000. The Philips system is not as portable, plus all the same crystals are used there, not semiconductors.
John Kendall, head of Denver Health Medical Center, says the device does not provide the same detailed picture as stationary ultrasound platforms. But the quality is perfectly acceptable for most purposes. In addition, Butterfly IQ can be transferred, transported anywhere, including the most remote regions. With a fixed platform, this will not work.
The company is not going to stop there, considering that, in addition to the hardware platform, it is necessary to work actively on the development of the software part. In the future, AI integrates into the software platform so that the computer helps to find deviations from the norm by correctly interpreting the results obtained. In addition, next year the company plans to finalize the program so that it can correctly determine the volume of blood pumped through the heart, as well as detect problems like an aneurysm of the heart muscle. An example can be viewed here .
As a result, the company plans to ensure that its scanner can be used at home, in the office, in the city and in a remote region. In addition, the developers will try to make the device even more affordable.