SonoNews: Robotic arm allows remote real-time ultrasound scans -made by French engineers

Now, this is pretty cool. Imagine doing an ultrasound on someone who is not right where you are, but could be in another hospital, or maybe even in another country? These french engineers has made something that is almost to that level. Read below for the EDMT medical imaging article:

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“In a breakthrough that might expand the frontiers of ultrasound examinations, a French company has developed the world’s first industrial-scale remote ultrasound system with a robot arm.

Introduced for radiography, remote imaging is now also used for ultrasound, which accounts for one third of medical imaging procedures, making it the most common such procedure in medicine. Today, ultrasound is the most efficacious of all diagnostic procedures, and on average costs half as much as CT scanning. However, medical exams during pregnancy and detailed investigations of organs, blood vessels, ligaments and the heart require the presence of a highly trained physician at the patient’s bedside as well as hands-on operation of the ultrasound device and interpretation of the resulting images.

Remote medical image scanning using a robot arm that functions as a genuine extension of the physician’s hand was invented by the head of the Department of Nuclear Medicine and Ultrasound at Tours University, Philippe Arbeille, as an outgrowth of manned space flight research that is supported by France’s CNES and by the ESA.

“The main challenge is to resolve the problem of synchronous video transmission. Also, the operator needs to be able to place his hand on the patient virtually,” notes AdEchoTech CEO Éric Lefebvre. The French company recently invested four years and one million Euros in the development of the world’s first industrial-scale remote ultrasound system. AdEchoTech has four patents pending for its Melody robot, two of them with Orleans University’s PRISME mechanical engineering research center.

AdEchoTech’s Melody workstation consists of two elements. For the medical practitioner, the workstation comprises a control box, a mini-console and a virtual probe that remotely controls the ultrasound probe arm. And on the patient side, the operator controls the probe arm remotely. The ultrasound probe, connected to the ultrasound device, is attached to the extremity of the robot arm, whose load is lightened by the arm’s carrier base while at the same time making the arm very easy to manipulate. Thanks to its modularity, the solution is readily adaptable to any given technical environment. Particularly, since operator and patient stations can be operated via satellite, as well as fiber optic 3G+ and 4G hookups. In this regard, the system is compatible with most commercially available ultrasound and video conferencing systems.

“Our R&D also focused on compression algorithms, so as to allow for the communication of information concerning the transmission of ultrasound images, as well as for control of the robot arm and for the realization of video conferences in real time – and all of this in a merely 2 Mbit/s symmetrical bandwidth,” says an AdEchoTech engineer.

The Melody robot, which obtained the CE mark in 2012, allows for 90% concordance with conventional ultrasound, and is useful for solving the growing problems entailed by the performance of ultrasound examinations on islands, in mountainous regions, and on ships or oil drilling platforms, in military zones, for repatriation medicine, and in prisons. Ten Melody stations are already in operation in French hospitals, where they are used for the following procedures: pelvic and abdominal emergencies (investigations of the hepatobiliary system, the urinary system, the abdominal aorta and the pancreas) and examinations during pregnancy. In such settings, the system helps to avoid lengthy trips for pregnant women to major hospitals.

“A second generation of patented Melody robots will benefit from two additional degrees of movement freedom, which will allow for the performance of remote cardiac ultrasound examinations,” says Lefebvre. A third generation of Melody robots, which is expected to be available in 2017, will carry out remote robot-assisted ultrasound for punctures and certain surgical procedures.

By: Bernard Banga, MD Report, France

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