Microsonix, a start-up founded by bioengineering PhD students at the Imperial College of London, is shrinking the components of ultrasound machines to build a low-cost, portable imaging device that can connect to tablets or smartphones.

Designed to be produced on a mass scale, Microsonix's current model is around the size of a pen. Founders Graham Peyton and Hamid Soleimani said the technology will bring medical imaging to developing nations where the cost of ultrasound machines can be prohibitive, or to remote areas where it isn’t possible to transport the large, bulky machines.

The team believes that their low-cost device can fill a gap in the market in developing countries such as Peyton’s native South Africa, where current ultrasound equipment is prohibitively expensive for many clinics that instead rely on second-hand machines near the end of their lifespan.

The start-up recently bagged the £10,000 ($12,960) prize at the Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC), an enterprise pre-accelerator run by Imperial Enterprise Lab. Microsonix founders said the prize will help pave the way for their ultimate goal—to shrink the components of the machine to a single chip, which could be swallowed in a capsule for imaging the digestive tract.

"We entered with an idea and the VCC really helped us understand the commercial possibilities for the product and how to convert it into a realistic business," Peyton said.