Ventilators are playing a lead role in the combat against COVID-19. But hospitals across the world are facing an acute shortage of ventilators. So, an ad hoc team of MIT engineers and doctors have come together to develop an inexpensive alternative that would make a critical difference in most life-threatening situations.
Alex Slocum Sr., a mechanical engineering professor at MIT, has teamed up with doctors and experts in electronics, controls, and mechanical designs. The team has already succeeded in bringing the first production-ready piece to New York City in just four weeks. The design is named as Spiro Wave and it is currently under full production at Newlab, 10XBeta, and Boyce technologies.
Meanwhile, the MIT team (called, E-Vent) is continuing its research to develop the next version of this machine that is more compact, with a slightly different drive system and a new important respiratory function. Their core aim is on improving the safety, functionality, and fabrication design of this device.
“The numbers were frightening, to put it bluntly,” said Slocum Jr. “This project started around the time of news reports from Italy describing ventilators being rationed due to shortages, and available data at that time suggested about 10% of Covid patients would require an ICU.”
One of the project leads, Hanumara, said that they intend to provide open-source guidelines that will help skilled teams across the globe to develop their own versions of this machine.
“There’s a reason we don’t have a single exact plan,” said Hanumara. “We have information and reference designs because this isn’t something a home hobbyist should be making. We want to emphasize that it’s not trivial to create a system that can provide ventilation safely.”
The E-Vent team based their design on a simple principle. They picked an emergency resuscitator bag and designed it to be squeezed by hand. This squeezing was automated with a pair of motor-driven curved paddles. The controls were tricky and the team had to make and remake several iterations before finalizing the design.
COVID patients mostly need ventilators for more a week, which means the paddles need to be designed specifically to encourage rolling contact and minimize wear on the bag. The integral involvement of clinicians played a key role in solving this engineering problem.