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Ultrasound imaging is an important biomedical technique for analyzing soft tissues in the human body, with both diagnostic and therapeutic applications. Ultrasound images are formed by emitting ultrasound waves in the medium of interest and recording the backscattered waves on an array of transducers. Conventional 2D ultrasound image Beamforming techniques are then used to create an image from the received echoes. Ultrasound imaging is the most widely-used medical imaging technique, because of its relative low cost, non-invasiveness and non-use of ionizing radiation, i.e. lack of adverse effects. It is widely used in prenatal care, for mammography and for many other applications (cardiac, renal, liver and gallbladder analysis, imaging of muscles and superficial structures such as testicles, thyroid, etc.). Because of the real time nature of ultrasound, it is often used to guide surgical procedures. Furthermore, ultrasound is increasingly used in remote diagnosis cases where teleconsultation is required. The worldwide outreach of ultrasound diagnostic for prenatal care and for mammography would be widely improved by the construction of high-performance and safe portable devices, especially for emergency, prenatal care and mammography.

Stationary ultrasound imaging apparatusYet, ultrasound imaging has limitations. The quality of the resulting images is often poor if compared against more expensive procedures, such as Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Also, the image acquisition relies on manually rubbing a probe on the patient’s body, and experience and skill are required for the best diagnostic results - as opposed to the other imaging techniques, where the medical personnel is not in direct physical contact with the patient. For both reasons, trained sonologists must be in charge of operating the ultrasound scanners, rather than more generic personnel. Moreover, ultrasound imaging devices are usually bulky and power-hungry, making them non-portable and unsuitable for field operation in absence of a stable power supply. Miniaturized, lower-power ultrasound imaging devices exist, but they provide medium quality at best.

Industrial portable ultrasound device: GE VscanUltrasoundToGo intends to develop a high-performance, low-power signal processing platform for ultrasound imaging applications, targeting future 3D portable ultrasound systems. The motivation of this work is to provide the means for achieving a portable medical system that can provide high-quality images while being battery operated, and thus much more usable in medical emergencies and developing countries or areas where energy availability is sporadic. The improved image quality and the flexibility of the platform are intended to make ultrasound imaging devices much easier to use also by non-specifically-trained personnel. UltrasoundToGo also envisions telemedicine scenarios, where high-quality images could be effortlessly and safely scanned by general practitioners and sent to specialists for analysis.

UltrasoundToGo Advanced 3D ultrasound imagingwill rely on innovation from both the hardware and software side. From the hardware side, UltrasoundToGo will improve on existing industrial and academic works by leveraging cutting-edge programmable chips - off-the-shelf parts and new architectures - to provide high-bandwidth signal processing and advanced computing capabilities in a low-power envelope, compatible with battery operation. From the software viewpoint, UltrasoundToGo will innovate in the signal processing and image processing departments, leveraging a highly-parallel algorithmic approach for optimal platform utilization and efficiency. One of the distinctive features of the system will be to support a qualified software deployment and maintenance model whereby new real-time control and analysis algorithms can be downloaded on the platform infield, under end-user control. This model is supported by a formally well-defined and sound programming model and verification methodology for guaranteeing correctness and quality of results.

UltrasoundToGo is a NanoTera-funded project. UltrasoundToGo involves the LSI, LTS5, and RISD laboratories at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and IIS and TIK laboratories at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETHZ), and will collaborate with the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV) and international academic and industrial partners.