A Developer’s Kit For Medical Ultrasound

From watching a heart valve in operation to meeting your baby before she’s born, ultrasound is one of the most valuable and least invasive imaging tools of modern medicine. You pay for the value, of course, with ultrasound machines that cost upwards of $100k, and this can put them out of reach in many developing countries. Sounds like a problem for hackers to solve, and to help that happen, this 2016 Hackaday prize entry aims to create a development kit to enable low-cost medical ultrasounds.

PhysicalSpaceDeveloped as an off-shoot from the open-source echOpen project, [kelu124]’s Murgen project aims to enable hackers to create an ultrasound stethoscope in the $500 price range. A look at the test bench reveals that not much specialized equipment is needed. Other than the Murgen development board itself, everything on the test bench is standard issue stuff. Even the test target, an ultrasound image of which leads off this article, is pretty common stuff – a condom filled with tapioca and agar. The Murgen board itself is a cape for a BeagleBone Black, and full schematics and code are available.

We’ll be paying close attention to what comes out of the ultrasound dev kit. Perhaps something as cool as this augmented reality ultrasound scope?


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23 thoughts on “A Developer’s Kit For Medical Ultrasound

  1. You can now. But not without the carrot of r&d returns to the proprietary 100k machine no one else has guy. Take away that carrot and we stagnate developmentally. I think middle ground is 7-10yrs before removal of all patents/open sourced designs….for medical inventions anyway…speaking as a dr and all…

    1. Yes. Those poor executives in those companies are just starving because all the profit goes to R&D and none is just wasted by greed.

      Remind me.. when was the ultrasound machine invented? Has that R&D not been paid for yet? Oh.. so continuing R&D keeps improving it. That’s great. Do you think these people are going to design something that competes with the latest and greatest out of the traditional medical technology corporations and therefore defund their R&D?

      No… they are going to make something that is ‘good enough’ for hackers to play around with and to give Doctors in places that can’t afford to buy from those companies something that is still much better than simply placing an ear to the patients’ chests and guessing.

      But hey.. R&D is expensive.. so.. .let’s just let people die.

      I wonder how much kick back you get from the comanies whose drugs you sell to your patients…

          1. It was an observation, not a critique. Just as the march of technological progress cannot be held back, the ramifications of such cannot be ignored. Doing so doesn’t imply that steps need be taken to “keep this out of the wrong hands,” but it does mean the conversation has to be started about what the impacts will be.

      1. Hmmm.. it can be misused. That’s an interested point. Do you really think that is ALL they will use it for?

        I think I might have a tumor growing inside my ____. That’s ok, don’t bother with the ultrasound, I’ll just wait and die.

        My wife is pregnant. I think it might be a girl. OMG!! Get that machine in here! quick!

  2. Indeed, Thinkerer, a bit of pessimism in the air !
    @J : it’s also true for quite a lot of R&D! There’s still a gap between a dev-kit you can play with, and a medical scanner, which also needs to be FDA(or whatever)-certified.
    @Nathan, it’s true for the portable echographs, even Philips has its 200$/month ultrasound scanner you can rent. Alibaba can also provide (closed) “cheap” ultrasound machine. So these are going to be around.
    It shows that there is a use for such a tool, and it’s not that bad that someone takes a try at hacking it.

  3. Things that’d I’d almost kill to have in my kit: An open source EKG (FDA approved EKG systems cost a mint and aren’t tiny) and an open source ultrasound. I did one deployment with a pocket doppler imaging ultrasound, and it really opened my eyes to the utility of ultrasound in austere environments. However, coming home and finding out that this piece of kit was going to be tens of thousands of dollars… Well, that killed that idea. I don’t have anywhere near that kind of funding.

    Good luck, mate! You need anything from someone experienced with using these things, hit me up. Big thanks for tackling this.

    1. I think you’d like that project then: A portable 12-lead ECG. And it is open-source, as far as I remember.


      Handheld ultrasound machines are around 1 – 2 K USD on Ebay. There are different types: those big boxy ones with CRTs I presume, laptop-like, slates with a handle, even those that are held on your wrist with a strap. All of them Chinese. Just search for “handheld ultrasound” or “portable ultrasound”.

      The problem is that none of those things above are FDA approved, but dude, there are at least some things unapproved by FDA that work. They are unlikely to harm you anyway due to their nature, the ECG is battery powered and won’t be able to put enough amperes through your heart; the ultrasound is not powerful enough to pulverise your organs either.

      At least I hope so. There will be nothing to choose from anyway when SHTF. Either a generic bottle of aspirin and a chinese ultrasound or death. I hate choices like that.

        1. Yup. The unstable regulators usually end up making a 1-2 volt peak to peak triangle wave. The high dialectic constant capacitor dialectics also all tend to be piezoelectric. (afik X5R is especially piezoelectric) End result is a squealing pcb.

  4. A few years ago, I watched a paramedic who arrived at a paragliding accident in France using an ultrasound unit attached to his iPhone. It seemed so obvious. He was able to immediately check for broken bones and internal injuries before moving the patient into the helicopter. It was pretty impressive.

    Googling shows at least one such product and there are probably more http://internetmedicine.com/iphone-smart-ultrasound/


    Who is up for making an open source Android version?

    1. I googled ultrasound to come up with something snarky to say. I found this image and came up with the France story because it’s so much more interesting than my Mom’s basement.

  5. for generating the pulse:how about using the photo-acoustic effect to a dark sticker, so that acoustic coupling or impedance matching may be unnecessary? for receiving you still want piezo pressed against the skin…

    with M sources (dark spots) and N detectors (piezos, or a single piezo divided into multiple like Alexander’s and Dan Berards STM disc) that gives M x N independant signals…

  6. Hi, here in New Zealand farmers employ ultra sounding contractors to check the pregnancies of the sheep to ensure high percentage lambing rates. A friend of my owned one of these businesses. One of his employees took the equipment home and used to ultrasound his pregnant wife every night after work. The baby was born deaf and blind. This happened more than a few years ago. I felt compelled to share this when I was reading how non invasive ultrasound is.

  7. Bravo Kelu 124! you should ask Professor Patat who is a leader in ultrasonic devices and invented and still do many new patents in Tours. he’s also teaching ultrasonic at the faculte de medecine et de sciences pharmaceutiques de Tours.
    to dumb guys : no ultrasonic is not just a device to check sex of foetus.. Ultrasonic devices are used for many things: Heart, kidneys, colons, muscles, check artery and so on…

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