General Electric has unveiled a pocket-sized ultrasound scanner at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. Looking very like (and not much bigger than) a clam-shell mobile phone, the device allows physicians to scan any part of the body by placing the attached wand on it. The system will be able to see real-time black and white or color inner body images on the screen of the Vscan and data can be also be saved and reviewed at a later date.

A microphone-like wand attached to the main body of the device sends and receives sound wave data upon contact with the body. This is then translated into an image on the Vscan screen for analysis by the physician. Zooming in and out, panning left and right and other image controls are taken care of with a familiar dial key interface on the lower half of the clam-shell body. Images are rendered in real-time in black and white, but color overlays can be added.

Presenting the Vscan at the Web 2.0 Summit, company CEO Jeffrey Immett said: "This really could be the stethoscope of the 21st century." Immelt said the Vscan had the same power and image quality of a device that would have cost US$250,000 two or three years ago and reflected on a time in the mid-1990s when portable ultrasound devices "weighed several hundred pounds".

General Electric has confirmed that the company will next embark on a clinical study involving a dozen sites in Asia, the U.S. and Europe to examine how the Vscan can be used in the field and how it will impact on patient care. Immelt hinted that the product will hit the market during 2010, although no pricing information has been forthcoming.

As well as empowering doctors to make better and faster on-the-spot diagnoses, its size and portability will no doubt be of great use to medical personnel called to remote locations or disaster relief areas.

The video below offers a closer look at the new technology: