In the midst of this pandemic, tech has a single focus: To move fast and make things. Notably medical supplies such as ventilator splitter tubes, face masks, patient gowns, and face shields will protect critical workers on the frontlines of healthcare, logistics, emergency services, and supply chains.
This is being achieved through a global volunteer army of doctors, engineers, healthcare experts, entrepreneurs and more who are working to “hack” medical devices by adapting existing versions or designing completely new ones that can be manufactured by anybody with access to a 3D printer.
Spurred on by a disdain for established procurement networks and regulatory arrangements that could cause delay, this extraordinary problem-solving effort could help save thousands of lives.
The Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies Group
In a little over a week, a Facebook group, which at the time of writing consists of some 54,000 members—many of whom are engineers, researchers, and medical professionals—has banded together to design and produce an open-source 3D-printed ventilator.
The group, called Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies (OSCMS), has already finalised the design and has sent it off for validation in Ireland. Meanwhile, the group is continuing its work by turning its attention to creating designs for other much-needed medical equipment such as masks and sanitisers.
This achievement is a great example of what can be done when smart, technically focused people come together in a time of great need.
The project logo for Open Source Ventilator Ireland. Image Credit: Open Source Ventilator Ireland.
Designed and Produced in Seven Days
After the OSCMS project gained notoriety and attracted participation from over 300 engineers, medical professionals, and researchers, including Irish entrepreneur Colin Keogh and Breeze Automation’s CEO and co-founder Gui Calavanti, a prototype ventilator using 3D-printed parts and inexpensive, readily available materials were produced in just seven days.
Prototype Approval and Validation Process
The ventilator prototype is now entering its validation process which is being overseen in Ireland by the Irish Health Services Executive. Although this will only technically validate it for use in Ireland, a country which is ironically well-stocked so far as ventilator hardware is concerned, a stamp of approval would pave the way for its deployment in other countries where there are dangerous shortages.
“Developed countries may be able to cope with COVID-19, but emerging nations may find it that much harder to overcome," Colin Keogh said when speaking to The Irish Times "So our overarching goal is to develop a functional medical device that will be certified for use in extreme emergencies."
An Urgent Need to Satisfy
Now that the United States has overtaken China to become the country with the most coronavirus cases, it is likely to encounter shortages too. Hospitals there have around 162,000 ventilators in addition to another 12,700 held in a reserve of emergency medical supplies overseen by the federal government.
Estimates from the American Hospital Association paint quite a grim picture—it expects that around 960,000 people will need ventilators over the course of the pandemic, most of whom will need them during its inevitable peak.