There’s a smartphone app for that” is pretty much a clichéd punchline nowadays, with our smartphones being utilized for everything from plotting routes to detecting concussion. The incredible power of these small pocket-sized computers is enabling clever engineers to develop a myriad of portable technological devices that, until now, were expensive and large. One such innovation is called the Butterfly iQ, a small ultrasound device that can display clear black-and-white pictures on an iPhone

A vascular surgeon using his own neck to test an iPhone-based portable ultrasonic scanner found that cancerous cells were present in his body. MIT Technology Review reported, “Black-and gray images quickly appeared. John Martin is not a cancer specialist. But he knew that the dark, three-centimeter mass he saw did not belong there. “I was enough of a doctor to know I was in trouble,” he says. It was squamous-cell cancer …”

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He was testing the advice after joining the startup making the device. Conventional ultrasound machines are large and expensive, but this one is small enough to be used anywhere and will be a comparative bargain at less than $2000.

The device he used, called the Butterfly IQ, is the first solid-state ultrasound machine to reach the market in the U.S. Ultrasound works by shooting sound into the body and capturing the echoes. Usually, the sound waves are generated by a vibrating crystal. But Butterfly’s machine instead uses 9,000 tiny drums etched onto a semiconductor chip.

It uses the iPhone to display the results, and Butterfly Network says that it wants to go even further, turning it into a device that can be used even by those who do not have medical training.

The company says it hopes to further modify the instrument with artificial-intelligence software that could help a novice position the probe, collect the right images, and even interpret them. By 2018, it believes, its software will allow users to automatically calculate how much blood a heart is pumping or even detect problems like aortic aneurysms.

Martin says that it could be used for things way beyond the normal hospital ultrasound machines.

Perhaps before too long a parent might diagnose a kid’s fracture at home. “To look at this as just an ultrasound device is like looking at an iPhone and saying it’s just a phone,” he says. “If you have a window into the body where anyone can afford it, everyone can use it, and everyone can interpret it, it becomes a heck of a lot more than an ultrasound device.”

The Butterfly IQ is expected to go on sale next year.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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