Student’s Soft Robot Invention Could Improve Ultrasounds

Serena Beri has patented her invention while still an undergraduate at UConn

An invention by UConn undergraduate Serena Beri could lead to higher quality ultrasound imagery (Adobe Stock).

Ultrasound imaging requires a steady hand, consistent pressure, and a stationary patient, but people are bumpy, twitchy and unpredictable. UConn undergraduate Serena Beri ’22 (CLAS) believes a robot can help.

Beri, a biological sciences major, has patented a soft robotic holder for ultrasound transducer.

UConn undergraduate Serena Beri, who has invented a "soft robot" that was recently granted a patent.
(Courtesy of Serena Beri)

While job-shadowing with a cardiologist, Beri saw that it was difficult to get consistent images while taking echocardiograms, which are basically ultrasounds of the heart. It takes skill, dexterity, and a certain degree of strength to do well. She tried it and found the equipment tricky to use.

“It’s finicky! The slightest movement could lose the image. I thought there might be a better way,” Beri says. Even experienced ultrasound technicians can find it difficult and are prone to repetitive motion injuries of their hands, wrists, shoulders and back, according to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

The illustration that accompanied Beri's patent application
The illustration that accompanied Beri’s patent application (courtesy of Serena Beri).

Beri had been on a robotics team in high school. She thought of a soft robot with an octagonal base and spider like-frame, with several linear actuatable arms and locomotive legs to move the transducer. This could then help automate the process and minimize variability. An additional benefit would be the ability to take an image without actually touching the patient, taking strain off the ultrasound tech. It might even be able to strap onto a person and get images while they are in motion.

She told the cardiologist and other mentors about her idea. The mentors said it sounded interesting and encouraged her to talk to a patent attorney. So she did.

“We discussed the process, and it actually sounded like something I could do,” Beri says. Her patent for an ultrasound transducer holder was filed in May 2018 and recently granted. She is also a STEM Scholar, a member of the honors community, and is currently working on a service project for UConn’s BOLD Women’s Leadership Network. She aims to create an online tool to connect professional women with undergraduates looking for mentors in science, technology, and engineering fields.

In her spare time, she continues to work on her prototype. When she’s satisfied with the product, she’ll start demonstrating it at medical technology conferences. Which is a perfect place to meet professionals in her field who might join her leadership network. And after that? She’s interested in pursuing a career in medicine.