Automatic force-controlled 3D photoacoustic system for human peripheral vascular imaging

Author(s): Baicheng Xing, Zhengyan He, Fang Zhou, Yuan Zhao, and Tianqi Shan


Photoacoustic (PA) imaging provides unique advantages in peripheral vascular imaging due to its high sensitivity to hemoglobin. Nevertheless, limitations associated with handheld or mechanical scanning by stepping motor techniques have precluded photoacoustic vascular imaging from advancing to clinical applications. As clinical applications require flexibility, affordability, and portability of imaging equipment, current photoacoustic imaging systems developed for clinical applications usually use dry coupling. However, it inevitably induces uncontrolled contact force between the probe and the skin. Through 2D and 3D experiments, this study proved that contact forces during the scanning could significantly affect the vascular shape, size, and contrast in PA images, due to the morphology and perfusion alterations of the peripheral blood vessels. However, there is no available PA system that can control forces accurately. This study presented an automatic force-controlled 3D PA imaging system based on a six-degree-of-freedom collaborative robot and a six-dimensional force sensor. It is the first PA system that achieves real-time automatic force monitoring and control. This paper’s results, for the first time, demonstrated the ability of an automatic force-controlled system to acquire reliable 3D PA images of peripheral blood vessels. This study provides a powerful tool that will advance PA peripheral vascular imaging to clinical applications in the future.