MEMS ultrasound transducers are taking ultrasound diagnostics out of the clinic
Ultrasound imaging has developed into an extremely versatile diagnostic tool that is serving almost all branches of professional medical care. Despite its versatility, ultrasound diagnostics is still mainly used in clinical settings for three reasons:
The ability to use it in the right way and acquire diagnostically relevant images;
The translation of these images into diagnostic conclusions;
The high cost and limited availability of this equipment.
The development of mass producible MEMS ultrasound transducers is enabling the cost effective production of highly complex 2D ultrasound imaging arrays capable of capturing 3D volumes. This combined with efficient edge AI to guide data acquisition and interpretation will enable the development of ultrasound diagnostic appliances that can be operated by users with limited medical knowledge.
The development of high volume and low cost MEMS ultrasound transducer technologies and edge AI will make ultrasound imaging available to semi-professional, remote diagnostics and even consumer marketsa.
Today the first products for these potentially huge markets are being introduced. With prices dropping rapidly from several thousands of dollars down to hundreds of dollars, ultrasound imaging is now moving out of the clinic. It not only will find its way to (semi) professionals like physiotherapists, obstetricians, midwives, sports physicians etc., but it will also bring diagnostic imaging to rural area’s (remote diagnostics) in developing countries. However, the largest market will probably in home foetal monitoring.
Relevance for the Electronic Components and Systems (ECS) industry
Traditional ultrasound is based on dedicated, non-scalable and proprietary piezo ceramic production technologies operated by the MedTech industry. The development of low cost silicon based MEMS ultrasound transducer technologies is bringing ultrasound diagnostics within the reach of the ECS industry. As no other the ECS industry has the instruments and production technologies to transform these into high volume consumer products. As such they present a huge opportunity for the ECS industry, not only in terms square meters of silicon, but also in terms of the electronics needed to drive the transducers and the many different applications that these transducers will enable, and where it is even envisaged that a category of these devices will be disposable wearables. As such it is expected that MEMS ultrasound will enable an completely new industry.
Enabling technology platforms
Clearly MEMS ultrasound transducer are the enabling platform technology driving this completely new industry. MEMS ultrasound transducers come in many flavors: capacitive (CMUT) and thin-film piezo (PMUT), processed as standalone or on ASIC etc. At the moment in the ECSEL JU project POSITION a European benchmark is executed to map the different technologies on the application space.
The second enabling platform to allow US imaging to be executed by laymen is edge AI to assist the user in data acquisition and data interpretation.
Dave Fornell, “5 Key Trends in New Ultrasound Technology,” Ultrasound Imaging, February 07, 2019
Rob van Schaijk, “CMUT and PMUT: New Technology Platform for Medical Ultrasound,” Philips Innovation Services