Pocket-size ultrasound machine changes game for telemedicine at CES 2019

Butterfly Network demonstrates its handheld personal ultrasound system, with a doctor tapped in on video chat seeing the imaging in real-time.


Angela Lang/Techhnews

Want a doctor to take a peek inside your body? No need to leave your living room. Using the Butterfly iQ handheld ultrasound wand and an iPhone, you could take your own ultrasound as your doctor analyzes the imagery in real time during a video chat. 

It’s not a theory — it’s possible right now. At CES 2019 I saw this technology in action for myself, watching someone scan their own heart and talk with their doctor. Created by Butterfly Network, the Butterfly iQ is a new type of FDA-cleared ultrasound technology that makes medical imaging more accessible than ever before, at just a fraction of the cost of traditional, bulky machines.

But this isn’t a typical CES show for me. I’m walking around the halls five months pregnant, so I was especially fascinated to learn more about a personal ultrasound machine. You mean I can just see my baby in an ultrasound anytime I want? 

Well, not quite. That FDA clearance is for medical-professional use only right now. 

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But the Butterfly team is beta testing software to take tele-medicine to the next logical step: real-time analysis from anywhere with your doctor, with software that’s smart enough to help guide someone to capture the images correctly — even if you’re not trained how to do a proper ultrasound.

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Butterfly iQ is an entire ultrasound machine that fits in your pocket and attaches to an iPhone or iPad.


Angela Lang/Techhnews

So if a future mama has a hard time getting to a doctor for their ultrasound checkup, or someone lives too far away for regular visits, this system can provide the solution.

The usual ultrasound machine is not something that fits in a pocket. It’s a wand attached to large machines that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Often special attachments are needed to scan different parts of the body with different densities. 

Butterfly iQ costs $2,000 and the technology inside is different from other machines. It doesn’t need any extra attachments or accessories to scan any part of the body. Just slap on some of that typical ultrasound gel on top of the scanner and you’re good to go. 

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Butterfly Network is testing AI software that can guide an untrained person to take a proper ultrasound, so the file can be sent to a professional for analysis. 


Angela Lang/Techhnews

The FDA clearance covers a wide-range of uses, including prenatal ultrasound scans. And the iQ is out in the world now, shipping since October. So could a doctor here at the show scan my belly to try it out? 

I had no shame and asked to get scanned in the middle of a crowded international tech show. But the folks at Butterfly said that’s a job best left for my own doctor. 

In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how this can help make imaging technology more universally accessible and affordable, making a personal ultrasound reading as common as a home glucose meter or blood-pressure cuff.

CES 2019: See all of Techhnews’s coverage of the year’s biggest tech show.

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