GE launches laptop-sized 4D ultrasound at ACOG

May 8, 2006

GE Healthcare introduced today a miniaturized version of its 4D ultrasound system for women’s health and prenatal applications. The Voluson i is about the size of a laptop yet produces real-time volumetric images and displays them on a screen as big as the company’s cart-based 4D Voluson 730.

GE Healthcare introduced today a miniaturized version of its 4D ultrasound system for women's health and prenatal applications. The Voluson i is about the size of a laptop yet produces real-time volumetric images and displays them on a screen as big as the company's cart-based 4D Voluson 730.

The portable version, introduced at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists meeting in Washington, DC, is priced from $55,000 to $75,000, depending on probe configuration. Production units are scheduled to begin shipping next week.

The hardware is new, but the interface and applications are the same as the Voluson 730 platform, laying the groundwork for an easy transition for those familiar with the cart-based system. The 11-pound, 12 x 14-inch unit is home to the same keyboard and trackball layout found on the Voluson 730. Screen pixel format is 1024 x 768, again the same as the Voluson 730.

Users will not, however, find the most sophisticated capabilities present on GE's flagship Voluson 730 Expert, such as fetal echo cardiodynamics processing, which requires more horsepower than the Voluson i can muster. But the mainstream diagnostics onboard the Voluson Pro and Pro V are there.

Voluson i's small size allows use outside the traditional bounds of 4D ultrasound. In the neonatal ICU, for example, there is little space, and staff and parents often crowd the baby. It will be used in physician offices, particularly by obstetricians and gynecologists. It may also be found in operating rooms, rural clinics, and mobile vans. In these settings, its size opens the door for such uses as guiding breast biopsies and screening patients, according to Terry Bresenham, vice president and general manager of GE ultrasound and ultrasound IT.

"There is an emerging market for interventions done with 4D," she said.

The compactness of the Voluson i, achieved without compromising image quality or size, will make the unit attractive to interventionalists who want to follow a surgical probe in 3D. Opportunities may arise first in breast and gynecological applications, as women's health has been the primary focus of 4D ultrasound. But the Voluson i might also be used to guide interventions in other parts of the body, such as the liver or musculoskeletal regions, Bresenham said.

Advances in miniaturization, some coming out of GE's Global Research Center and others from the computer and telecommunications industry, made the Voluson i possible. GE engineers found new ways to miniaturize the beamformer and make hardware "more dense" than that available off the shelf.

Developments in integrated circuitry and software that performs what was previously done with hardware helped shrink the frame. The resulting lower electrical consumption allowed GE engineers to scale back on components tasked with providing power. Connectors developed by the telecommunications industry helped link the mechanical 4D probe and the CPU.

Volumetric imaging has become the gold standard in prenatal diagnostic ultrasound, according to Bresenham. Perspective provides advantages in evaluating the fetal heart, placenta, umbilical cord, and blood flow, as well as in assessing the severity of malformations such as cleft palate.

"It helps physicians and parents prepare for what the baby will look like," she said.

Tomographic ultrasound images created using the Voluson i approximate what is seen with CT, she said. Several planes are shown in real-time slices.

"You place the probe on the patient and see volumes in all those slices," Bresenham said. "If you're guiding a needle to a lesion, you see the needle and see directionally whether it is headed to the right spot."

The future will be defined by miniaturization, according to Bresenham. The Voluson i is just an early step in that direction.

"Our business is miniaturizing ultrasound without compromising image quality," she said. "This is not a reversible trend."