MIT open sources cheap ventilator design in response to worldwide shortage

The E-Vent project aims to create a $100 ventilator suitable for the COVID-19 outbreak.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a cheap ventilator and is releasing the design to the open source community in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The COVID-19 outbreak, of which there are roughly 724,000 confirmed cases at the time of writing, has exposed a worldwide shortage of ventilators -- critical equipment for those that are severely ill. 

While manufacturers are overhauling their assembly lines to produce ventilators, masks, and key protective gear for medical professionals on the front line, demand has far outstripped supply -- and ventilators can be very expensive with price tags of up to $30,000 each in the United States. 

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In response, an MIT team formed on March 12 is working on E-Vent -- otherwise known as "emergency ventilator" -- which is a resurrection of an old project from past students at the educational establishment that outlined a simple, portable ventilator for only $100. 

A paper was published in 2010 (.PDF) detailing the device, but work on the design ended at this point. Now, in light of COVID-19, the ventilator design has been taken off the shelf, dusted off, and is being both refined and tested. 

As reported by MIT News, the emergency ventilator uses a bag-valve resuscitator (Ambu) bag that is traditionally operated by hand in emergency situations including cardiac arrest. It is not simply a case of grabbing and squeezing; skilled, trained staff need to time their movements correctly and change their squeezing, releasing, and pressure flow based on the needs of a patient. 

This bag has now been added to a mechanical system that can take over the manual process, but it is important that this element is fully reliable -- as to not put a patient's life in danger -- and can be customized to deliver different air and pressure levels. The device must also be able to operate over a long period of time without human intervention. 

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MIT's team, of which every member is a volunteer without funding, has cautioned that the design -- now open source -- is not for DIY enthusiasts. Rather, the decision to release the E-Vent blueprints has been made in the spirit of giving engineers and developers a starting point to hopefully create cheap, life-saving equipment. 

"We are releasing design guidance (clinical, mechanical, electrical/controls, testing) on a rolling basis as it is developed and documented," one team member told MIT News. "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."

In less than a week, the team has created a prototype and is testing a version of the device. Feedback, potentially leading to approval, has been sought from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The project, including design and safety specifications, can be accessed through the E-Vent website

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In related news, a collaboration between the Mercedes Formula One team and University College London (UCL) has resulted in the creation of a breathing aid that may stop COVID-19 sufferers from reaching the stage where they need a ventilator. 

The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, reverse-engineered from models already in use by the UK National Health Service (NHS) but in short supply -- was developed in less than a week and is already in patient trial stages. 

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