Towards automated ultrasound imaging - Robotic image acquisition in liver and prostate for long-term motion monitoring
Real-time volumetric (4D) ultrasound has shown high potential for diagnostic and therapy guidance tasks. One of the main drawbacks of ultrasound imaging to date is the reliance on manual probe positioning and the resulting user dependence. Robotic assistance could help overcome this issue and facilitate the acquisition of long-term image data to observe dynamic processes in vivo over time. The aim of this study is to assess the feasibility of robotic probe manipulation and organ motion quantification during extended imaging sessions. The system consists of a collaborative robot and a 4D ultrasound system providing real-time data access. Five healthy volunteers received liver and prostate scans during free breathing over 30 min. Initial probe placement was performed with real-time remote control with a predefined contact force of 10 N. During scan acquisition, the probe position was continuously adjusted to the body surface motion using impedance control. Ultrasound volumes, the pose of the end-effector and the estimated contact forces were recorded. For motion analysis, one anatomical landmark was manually annotated in a subset of ultrasound frames for each experiment. Probe contact was uninterrupted over the entire scan duration in all ten sessions. Organ drift and imaging artefacts were successfully compensated using remote control. The median contact force along the probe's longitudinal axis was 10.0 N with maximum values of 13.2 and 21.3 N for liver and prostate, respectively. Forces exceeding 11 N only occurred in 0.3% of the time. Probe and landmark motion were more pronounced in the liver, with median interquartile ranges of 1.5 and 9.6 mm, compared to 0.6 and 2.7 mm in the prostate. The results show that robotic ultrasound imaging with dynamic force control can be used for stable, long-term imaging of anatomical regions affected by motion. The system facilitates the acquisition of 4D image data in vivo over extended scanning periods for the first time and holds the potential to be used for motion monitoring for therapy guidance as well as diagnostic tasks.