Open source project breathes life into Covid-19 health emergency
- There aren’t enough ventilators to meet likely demand
- Old world supply chains are too cumbersome and design processes too slow to suddenly ramp up production
- An open source project to design and arrange production at scale has garnered global support
It’s difficult, and feels slightly irrelevant, to write a story this week that doesn’t contain the words ‘covid-19’. More difficult still to tackle a virus-related story that doesn’t add yet more doom to an already gloom-laden media frenzy, but there is one.
The open source ventilator is not only a thing, but it’s being tackled at lightning speed by at least one group aiming to have a low-cost, easy-to-assemble ventilator design finished, validated and up and in production at lightning speed to meet the pressing ventilator problem worldwide. If - or more likely, when - the open source project comes up with the goods it will be a timely validation of the open source approach (that much of the telecoms industry is now adopting to propel its next generation of services) and a proof-point for the value of collaborative working across the internet.
It turns out that ventilators are one of the missing global preparedness pieces for a virus such as Covid-19, which attacks the lungs.
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As widely discussed already, contracting Covid-19 can be a relatively trivial experience if you’re young, lucky and in possession of healthy lungs. For the elderly though, especially those with extra ‘conditions’ such as heart disease or Type 2 Diabetes, Covid-19 can be very serious, requiring ventilator assistance to squeeze air and oxygen into the lungs so as to keep the patient alive while the immune system fights off the virus.
Projections show that as the disease spreads rapidly through a country, even the small percentage of infected but vulnerable people in the population can easily outstrip the number of respirators available to treat them, especially if they all fall ill at about the same time.
A shortage of ventilators has therefore been diagnosed as a real global problem when it comes to fighting the virus.
According to Forbes, US hospitals have around 62,000 up-to-date machines ready and waiting, plus another 99,000 obsolete units that could be pressed into service at a pinch. That sounds like a lot, but if the pattern of serious infection in the US follows the Italian model, even this impressive sounding number is likely to be completely inadequate. Projections now indicate millions of deaths as a worst case.
What to do?
Forbes says that it's possible for existing manufacturers of the ventilators to boost production but, as with everything else these days, such production is reliant on a long and complex supply chain for parts for the final assembly. Then there’s the problem of suddenly training up assemblers and testers to man the assembly lines.
But an open source effort to design ventilators collaboratively to use available materials and be produced at scale right around the world might be at least one of the answers.
Enter the Open Source Ventilator Project
In a matter of days this was announced on Twitter and Facebook and expressions of interest were sought. It defined the group as “a place for engineers, designers, medical professionals, and communities to generate and validate ideas for open source designs of ventilators that can be produced at scale and made available for use by clinical staff to save lives and aid the recovery of COVID19 patients.”
On Monday the 16th March it had launched its website, had a logo, and was attracting much attention on Twitter as interested parties with relevant skills flocked to enlist in the fight.
You can keep up with the group’s progress or even offer help via:
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