Robotic Ultrasound Scanning With Real-Time Image-based Force Adjustment Quick Response For Enabling Physical Distancing During The COVID-19 Pandemic
During an ultrasound scan, the sonographer is in close contact with the patient, which puts them at risk of COVID-19 transmission. In this paper, we propose a robot-assisted system that automatically scans tissue, increasing sonographer/patient distance and decreasing contact duration between them. This method is developed as a quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It considers the preferences of the sonographers in terms of how ultrasound scanning is done and can be trained quickly for different applications. Our proposed system automatically scans the tissue using a dexterous robot arm that holds an ultrasound (US) probe. The system assesses the quality of the acquired US images in real-time. This US image feedback will be used to automatically adjust the ultrasound probe contact force based on the quality of the image frame. The quality assessment algorithm is based on three US image features: correlation, compression and noise characteristics. These US image features are input to the SVM classifier, and the robot arm will adjust the US scanning force based on the SVM output. The proposed system enables the sonographer to maintain a distance from the patient because the sonographer does not have to be holding the probe and pressing against the patient's body for any prolonged time. The SVM was trained using bovine and porcine biological tissue, the system was then tested experimentally on plastisol phantom tissue. The result of the experiments shows us that our proposed quality assessment algorithm successfully maintains ultrasound image quality and is fast enough for use in a robotic control loop.