Jeff Neasham, an expert in underwater sonar technology at Newcastle University was inspired by his pregnant wife to develop the portable low-cost scanner which can be plugged into any computer or laptop to reveal vital information about the unborn baby.
He said:"It was my own experience of becoming a father and going through the whole antenatal process that prompted me to start the project.
[Related article: Fashion blogger gives birth on YouTube]
"I was sat with my wife looking at our child on the screen, we realised how privileged we were to have access to this kind of care and it was my wife who suggested that I could apply my knowledge from sonar research to try to make this more affordable."
The hand-held device – which is roughly size of a computer mouse – is similar to existing ultrasound scanners which use pulses of high frequency sound to build up a picture of an unborn baby on a computer screen.
However, the ultrasound scanning technology in use in UK hospitals can cost anything from £20,000 to £100,000, whereas the new hand-held scanning device can be manufactured for as little as £30 to 40.
Mr Neasham, who developed the scanner with Newcastle University research associate Dave Graham, said he hoped the device will be used to provide medical teams in developing countries with basic, antenatal information that could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and children.
"Here in the UK we take these routine, but potentially lifesaving, tests for granted," said Mr Neasham.
"Imaging to obtain even the simplest information such as the child’s position in the womb or how it is developing is simply not available to women in many parts of the world.
[Related article: Parents' five biggest regrets from their children's early years]
"We hope the very low cost of this device and the fact that it can run on any standard computer made in the last ten years means basic antenatal imaging could finally be made available to all women."
The UN estimates that more than 250,000 women die every year from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, most in developing countries. Many deaths could be avoided, with a lack of access to equipment being cited as one of the key factors.
Mr Neasham said the beauty of this device was that it would complement, rather than replace, the high performance scanners available in hospitals. It could also be used outside the field of obstetrics.
He said: "There is obviously the potential to use it to go beyond obstetrics by using it to diagnose conditions such as gallstones, or other conditions that readily show up with ultrasound imaging. Even vets and farmers are interested in affordable imaging."
The research was funded through an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Knowledge Transfer Account.