Development of a neck palpation device for telemedical environments

Van den Heever, David Jacobus (2007-12)

Thesis (MScEng (Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


An abnormal sized mass in the neck is a common clinical finding and it can be the result of inflammation caused by bacterial or viral infection or it can be due to more serious diseases and malignant tumours. The most popular method of examining the neck is by manual palpation. Other methods include ultrasound, CT scan, MRI and PET. These methods though are expensive to perform and require specialists to interpret the results. The aim of this thesis was to design and develop a neck palpation device for telemedicine applications. The device uses an array of Force Sensing Resistors (FSRs) attached to an inflatable bladder. The bladder is mounted to the inside of a neck brace and it is inflated with an air pump controlled by a computer. As the bladder inflates the sensors press against the patient’s neck and the necessary data can be collected. A technique known as image registration is used to improve the resolution of the images sensed with the FSRs. The device provides a reproducible record of the examination for both the surgeon and the patient’s medical record, and provides the patient information as if the doctor examined the patient with his own hands without physically being there. A prototype of the device was built and used to perform numerous tests. The tests were conducted using different objects which are inserted into a silicone neck to simulate different lymph nodes. The device was used to test for shape, smallest size, different sizes, repeatability and hardness. The results showed that the device works well for spherical objects of different sizes but gives unsatisfactory results when the objects have sharp edges and complex forms. The image registration algorithm enhanced the images to a good representation of the object. Different sizes could be distinguished as well as hardness to some extend.

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