AI-enabled ultrasound

Working toward a world where healthy mothers give birth to healthy babies with next-generation technology
Training on the Butterfly iQ+ device for antenatal care in Nairobi, Kenya in 2022. Video by Butterfly

Why expand access to ultrasound technology?

In the early 2000s, we saw huge progress in the health of mothers and their children around the world. But that progress has lagged in recent years—maternal and newborn deaths remain stubbornly high. One of the many reasons for this is lack of access to diagnostic tools. That includes ultrasound machines, which can detect critical problems during pregnancy. In 2016, WHO added a single ultrasound scan before 24 weeks of pregnancy to its list of recommended interventions for routine antenatal care.

Today, two-thirds of all pregnant women do not have access to these tools. Even where ultrasound machines are available, they are often bulky and expensive, meaning mothers must travel—sometimes very far—to use them. They also require specialized knowledge and training to operate.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are investing in partners around the world to ensure that more women receive ultrasounds and benefit from life-saving diagnostic tools. We’re excited to be working with partners who are developing new, portable tools powered by AI ultrasound technology, that can be plugged into a cellphone or tablet. These tools can help support healthy pregnancies in every community.

A future where healthy women deliver healthy babies

Dr. Rasa Izadnegahdar and Dr. Zahra Hoodbhoy on the simple but effective ultrasound probe reaching lower and middle-income countries around the world.

What makes new ultrasound innovations so impactful?

Portable and AI-powered devices are bringing the power of ultrasound technology to areas where it would otherwise be out of reach—including the most rural communities. These new ultrasounds are more cost-effective than traditional machines and can equip midwives and nurses with information on high-risk conditions that don’t require them to read images. This information is crucial for aiding nurses and midwives to provide appropriate referrals of high-risk pregnancies to specialized care for further diagnostics and treatment.

“Improving maternal health also means improving infant health and survival. It means stronger families, more vibrant communities, and more prosperous societies.”
Melinda French Gates
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

New approaches and innovative elements to new ultrasounds

Handheld point-of-care ultrasound scanners are compact, portable devices used for diagnostic imaging in various settings. Typically weighing less than a pound, they connect to a smartphone or tablet to display images. These tools provide immediate visual insights into a patient's condition, helping healthcare providers in low- and middle-income countries identify high-risk conditions and refer for specialized care. They are particularly beneficial in emergency, rural, or resource-limited environments where traditional ultrasound machines are not feasible.

Integrated circuits in handheld ultrasound devices are pivotal in making ultrasound technology possible in a handheld device. These circuits, embedded on a single chip, enable real-time processing of complex ultrasound data, providing immediate diagnostic images. The integration of these circuits significantly reduces the size and cost of ultrasound devices, making advanced imaging more widely available.

Handheld ultrasound devices with data integration, transmission, and telehealth capabilities can transform diagnosis pathways for patients who have barriers to accessing referral antenatal care. These features enable real-time sharing of ultrasound images and videos with other healthcare professionals, facilitating remote consultations and collaborative decision-making for the best outcomes for pregnant women. This technology is critical to enabling faster diagnoses, particularly in remote communities or underserved areas. The telehealth capabilities bring specialist expertise closer to women, improving outcomes in emergency and routine care. These advancements in technology can bridge critical gaps in healthcare accessibility and efficiency.

Our investments in low-cost, portable ultrasounds

Our foundation is supporting the development of new, portable, and AI-enabled ultrasound devices to help ensure every mother can have a healthy pregnancy. Along with portable ultrasound, we are also supporting many other new and exciting interventions for maternal and newborn health.

The Gates Foundation has committed US$370 million annually from 2023 to 2027 to support maternal, newborn and child health, including discovery of new, lifesaving tools and innovations. Learn more about additional low-cost innovations that can prevent maternal, child and newborn deaths. 

“Developing automated AI capabilities on ultrasound with a simplified user interface can enable the product to reach a broader set of health care practitioners, including nurses and midwives and help in addressing health equity by lowering the barriers to training and enabling faster exams. The foundation believes investing in and accelerating these technologies can transform health care systems,”

-Ari Moskowitz, Deputy Director, Medical Devices & AI, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Edan ultrasound in use.
The Edan ultrasound in use. Photo by Edan

Our grantees and supported partners

Frequently Asked Questions

This is a streamlined, portable tool that can be plugged into a mobile phone or tablet. AI ultrasound helps health workers monitor pregnancy and identify high-risk pregnancies in low-resource settings by using AI algorithms. Nurses and midwives can use these tools without additional radiology or obstetric training.

AI solutions are being explored across many of the major handheld ultrasound developers. Our partnerships are supporting bringing solutions to market over the next 2-3 years.

There are a wide range of prices of handheld ultrasound devices due to variations in their hardware and software features. The anticipated cost for this solution would range from $1,000-$5,000 USD.

Major companies that have publicly stated they are working on these solutions include GE, Philips, and Butterfly Network.

The foundation is not investing in subsidizing the sales of these solutions. Our aim is to foster a sufficient market for these ultrasound manufacturers to service.

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