Design World: Designing a handheld ultrasound device

The design goal was to empower healthcare workers at all levels of expertise to make life-altering decisions at the point of care — while removing the technical barriers and capital outlays contributing to the high cost of healthcare. Thus, began the process of designing a handheld ultrasound device.

The developers were Dr. Amin Nikoozadeh, of Stanford University and founder of Vave Health, and the engineering team at Box Clever.

The ultrasonic device is as easy to carry as a stethoscope and wirelessly connects with any smartphone or tablet.

To achieve this goal meant looking at ultrasound in a totally new and innovative way. Dr. Nikoozadeh and the engineering team at Box Clever worked with a team of health care specialists, engineers, and medical technicians to unlock the complexities around creating a novel handheld ultrasound technology that would be both simple and intuitive for users.

The choice of materials was key to the product’s overall functionality and user experience. As the ultrasound processors quickly rise in temperature, the chosen material could not overheat. The design team settled on a cast-metal magnesium case for the outer shell of the ultrasound as the magnesium prevents overheating and allows for the device to meet thermal testing requirements.

A soft grip would also enhance user-friendly design during clinical use. The design team chose to introduce a silicone sleeve that enhances the grip and is easy to disinfect with hospital-grade cleaning agents — a feature that would turn out to be essential in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mobility is essential. The design team put in a flex button for wireless pairing with a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop, allowing the versatility to act as an extension of these devices.

The battery was designed as an independent element to the sleeve, allowing for it to be swapped out and replaced in a matter of seconds. Retention features require the battery to slide off the end of the product on a track system, allowing for a smooth interchange without having to open any covers or press any buttons.

Ultrasound is a high-intensity function, requiring frequent charging so the team also created a battery charger that can live on a countertop or be mounted to a wall, further aiding the device’s accessibility. Much like a smartphone, Vave’s ultrasound-as-a-service model also ensures continuous upgrades of the device’s software.

Wireless, secure cloud storage enables tech support and access to education and expertise from anywhere in the world. And Vave updates the ultrasound probe software continually for a closed sustainability loop.

With ultrasound already an integral part of healthcare practice and diagnostics, the design team wanted to reimagine its profile, prioritizing the human user while eschewing the staid color palettes usually adopted in medical design.

The shape and size of the Vave device were carefully crafted for balance in the hand, making it small enough so that you can hold it in multiple orientations. Exploring soft forms and patterns in an ergonomic design, the team sought maximum ease and comfort for daily and prolonged use, while allowing for Vave to be set down or stood up.

To create a futuristic, sleek design while still retaining a professional medical feel, the team chose a combination of white and muted blue to enhance the structure and silhouette.

The final result was a product accessible and essential to healthcare professionals, clinicians, and medical students around the world.

Box Clever