This open-source, low cost ventilator design from MIT could save thousand of lives

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March 30, 2020
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One of the most essential tools in the fight against the novel coronavirus is the ventilator, which helps people suffering from severe cases of COVID-19 to breathe when it becomes difficult to do so by themselves. Unfortunately, they are very expensive pieces of medical technology (each unit can cost around $30,000), which means there is a shortage of ventilators in many parts of the globe.

To solve this problem, a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is hard at work refining their design of a low-cost ventilator that will help save thousands of lives in the face of the current COVID-19 global epidemic. It consists of MIT students and professors who are consulting with local physicians to make a simple ventilator design that will be easy to mass produce. The team, named MIT E-Vent (meaning emergency ventilator), has been working non-stop since it’s inception on March 12 and will make its design open to the public so that cheap ventilators can be made and distributed to those who need them. So far, their ventilator can be made using around $100 worth of parts, greatly undercutting the conventional ventilators being used at hospitals.

The main component in this simple ventilator is called a bag-valve resuscitator, or Ambu bag. Basically, this is a plastic bag that is used to help patients breathe by compressing and decompressing the bag by hand. This may seem easy enough, but operating the Ambu bag requires skill and patience to adjust the timing and pressure of pumping according to the situation. Obviously, a healthcare worker can’t be expected to sit with a patient and operate the Ambu bag indefinitely, so the E-Vent team designed a mechanism to operate it automatically. They even published their engineering process in a paper, but are now focusing on fine tuning the design.

Factors such as durability, accuracy and, and adjustment need to be very carefully considered in such a project. Therefore, the team is again hard at work trying to make the design as robust as possible.

“We are releasing design guidance (clinical, mechanical, electrical/controls, testing) on a rolling basis as it is developed and documented,” said a team member. “We encourage capable clinical-engineering teams to work with their local resources, while following the main specs and safety information, and we welcome any input other teams may have.”

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