Home / Technology / Electronics & EW / Ultrasound sensors becoming cheap, miniaturized and ultrasensitive leading to wide employment in automotive, healthcare, industrial, and electronics.

Ultrasound sensors becoming cheap, miniaturized and ultrasensitive leading to wide employment in automotive, healthcare, industrial, and electronics.

As the name indicates, ultrasonic sensors measure distance by using ultrasonic waves. The basic working principle of these sensors is based on echolocation, which involves transmission of ultrasonic waves to the target object, which reflects it back to the source after receiving the initial wave. The ultrasonic sensors detect the exact position of the object by calculating the distance from the original source “echo”, generated by the object.


Ultrasonic sensors are being widely used in automotive, healthcare, industrial, food and electronics sector. The conventional ultrasonic devices are being commercialized to be used in multiple industries; these devices possess the capability of being able to search inside objects in a non-destructive manner.


Ultrasonic devices offer several applications in the automotive sensors, like parking assistance, safety alarms, collision avoidance, object detection and automatic braking system. They play an important role in shaping up the future of the next generation driver assistance and self-driving systems. On-board sensing systems are being offered in advanced cars for premium process.


These systems rely on ultrasonic sensors for measuring relative distances of objects from the car. Long-range radar capabilities are being integrated with cruise control systems in order to avoid collisions between vehicles. These sensors are also being used for detection of distances on the rear end of the automobiles for parking assistance and braking control. Additionally, sensor vendors have been offering several variants of ultrasonic sensors with increased capabilities like open-structures, waterproofing and external casing for reducing damage. Thus, with the expected hike in ADAS systems in the future, ultrasonic sensors will witness a proportional rise.


Ultrasonic sensors have been at the forefront of technological advancements in the medical applications industry. These applications have been offering cutting-edge innovative solutions for enhancing the quality of life and ensuring greater diagnostic capabilities in this sector. The use of ultrasonic sensors in medical industry can be studied under two distinct labels, namely detection and measurement. These sensors are available in multiple shapes and sizes, and may be used on the surface of the body or can be inserted into a specific part, depending on the nature of the medical examination.


Ultrasonic sensors can be used to send ultrasonic waves through the human body for generating visual images. The foetuses of pregnant women are pictured using these sensors. This is a risk-free alternative to radiography solutions. Ultrasonic sensors also offer a cost-effective alternative to piezoelectric sensors, and they operate in a wider range of conditions. These sensors can be used for diagnosis of abdominal conditions, thyroid glands, cardiological problems, and vascular and transrectal system. Multiple sensors may be used for detection of physical ailments. Thus, the demand for better health care facilities is set to drive growth in the ultrasonic sensors market.


Researchers at the University of Queensland have developed a new method for building ultrasound sensors that dramatically improves the technology’s sensitivity. This new ultrasound technology is anticipated to transform the landscape of the digital healthcare sector, impacting everything from medical devices to spatial imaging used in unmanned vehicles.


Engineers at the University of British Columbia have developed a new ultrasound transducer, or probe, that could dramatically lower the cost of ultrasound scanners to as little as $100. Their patent-pending innovation–no bigger than a Band-Aid–is portable, wearable and can be powered by a smartphone

Military requirements

The machines, which use high-frequency sound waves to look into the body for a variety of medical purposes, such as identifying blood in the abdomen, finding fractures, skin infections and collapsed lungs, already have widespread use in Army medicine. The machines can see nerve bundles to help in local anesthesia as well as showing clear pictures of veins to guide medics when drawing blood or giving fluids intravenously.


The technology has matured to the advent of portable ultrasound machines, which can weigh less than five pounds, and fit inside a standard-size medical aid bag. Portable ultrasound machines offer capabilities such as being able to save images as jpg files as well as recording live video of procedures in which they are used. These can then be downloaded through USB ports on the machines.



New ultra-precise ultrasound technology to provide clearer medical images for doctors

New ultrasound technology modifies the technique of sound measurements and could lead to the development of new extra-sensitive medical devices


Ground-breaking ultrasound technology has been developed that can measure minuscule random forces from surrounding air molecules – providing clearer images for doctors. Once ultrasound waves come in contact with the device’s suspended disk, its surface distorts just enough for a laser reader to run over the surface and observe the disk’s change in shape. From these tiny distortions, researchers can generate an ultraprecise image.


The technology was built by the team of researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) and uses a silicon chip containing ultra-precise ultrasound sensors. Dr Sahar Basiri-Esfahani, senior research scientist at Swansea University told, “To miniaturise these sensors would mean a better precision in detecting smaller objects and increasing the resolution. “However, this has been found challenging with conventional technologies of ultrasound sensing.”


She added: “We used the recent nano-photonics technology to design and fabricate ultrasound sensors with very high precision and sensitivity. “This is because nano-photonics uses light – as opposed to electric current in electronic devices – and very small and delicate optical systems barely visible by eyes. “Such sensors would suffer less by the environmental ‘noise’. We were able to sense very small levels of ultrasound waves with very small sensor.”


“We’ve developed a near perfect ultrasound detector, hitting the limits of what the technology is capable of achieving,” Bowen remarked. “We’re now able to measure ultrasound waves that apply tiny forces—comparable to the gravitational force on a virus—and we can do this with sensors smaller than a millimeter across.”


Using nanofabrication and nanophotonics in ultrasound technology

Nanofabrication refers to the design process of nanomaterial and devices that are measured in nanometres – one nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre. Meanwhile, Nano-photonics also known as nano-optics, focuses on the light-matter interactions on the nanometer scale.It is a branch of optics, optical engineering, electrical engineering, and nanotechnology.


Researchers are so impressed with the potential for their new ultrasound sensor that they believe that they will soon have the ability to detect the vibrations caused by a single cell’s internal action. If that type of resolution could be achieved, researchers believe they’ll have a tool that could determine which cells within a biological system are working properly, and which have malfunctioned. With such a tool, medical screenings could potentially become so sophisticated in their scope that problems from viral infections to cancer development could be detected so quickly that they may not have the chance to spread at all.


Breakthrough opens door to $100 ultrasound machine

Conventional ultrasound scanners use piezoelectric crystals to create images of the inside of the body and send them to a computer to create sonograms. Researchers replaced the piezoelectric crystals with tiny vibrating drums made of polymer resin, called polyCMUTs (polymer capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducers), which are cheaper to manufacture.


“Transducer drums have typically been made out of rigid silicon materials that require costly, environment-controlled manufacturing processes, and this has hampered their use in ultrasound,” said study lead author Carlos Gerardo, a PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering at UBC. “By using polymer resin, we were able to produce polyCMUTs in fewer fabrication steps, using a minimum amount of equipment, resulting in significant cost savings.”


Sonograms produced by the UBC device were as sharp as or even more detailed than traditional sonograms produced by piezoelectric transducers, said co-author Edmond Cretu, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Since our transducer needs just 10 volts to operate, it can be powered by a smartphone, making it suitable for use in remote or low-power locations,” he added. “And unlike rigid ultrasound probes, our transducer has the potential to be built into a flexible material that can be wrapped around the body for easier scanning and more detailed views–without dramatically increasing costs.”

You could miniaturize these transducers and use them to look inside your arteries and veins. You could stick them on your chest and do live continuous monitoring of your heart in your daily life. It opens up so many different possibilities,” said Rohling.


Market growth

The global ultrasonic sensors market was valued at USD 2.94 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach a value of USD 5.5 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 10.96%, during the forecast period (2018 – 2023).  The regions considered in the scope of the report include North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Middle East & Africa.


Owing to their advantageous properties, such as sensors higher measurement range, high frequency, high sensitivity, and high penetrating power makes the detection process more efficient. The higher accuracy is attained because of the ultrasonic sensor’s processing on high frequency and shorter wavelengths, resulting into high-resolution images and accurate distance measurements. However, competition from other sensors such as lower response speed and accuracy in comparison with optical sensors and dearth of manufacturing excellence hinder the market growth.


North America has been a traditional leader in the ultrasonic sensors market due to a number of factors. Market penetration is quite high in this sector; the presence of several automotive and manufacturing giants is a very crucial growth factor. Among the countries of North America, US holds most of the market share, while Canadian market is estimated to grow faster than the US. The health expenditure per capita in US is very high, greater than the developed counterparts of Europe. Since ultrasonic sensors can visualize the internal condition of the human body without damaging them, they are widely used in various medical inspections, including prenatal examinations to which radiography cannot be applied.




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