How This DIY Ventilator Might Hold Covid-19 Sufferers Alive | WIRED

published on July 2, 2020

this may not look like an important

piece of medical equipment

but it could be one of the critical

things keeping covid19 patients alive

it's an emergency ventilator designed by

a team from mit

that is trying to use common equipment

both medical

we want to use one of these emboo bag


to ventilate people and automotive

windshield wiper motors

are one of the most engineered things on

the planet

fda approved ventilators are

sophisticated machines that cost roughly

thirty thousand dollars and require

hundreds of components

the mit team took that as a challenge

design a low-cost ventilator that could

be built

anywhere there's need they put their

research on an open source website so


groups around the world adapt it to what

they had locally and give feedback

we spoke with research scientist nevin

hanumara and professors

alex slocum and daniela roos the idea

that we could

attach a robotic device that is easy to


low cost robust and gentle to the bag

is what guided our work the design

can be broken up into three main parts

the breathing circuit

the mechanical ventilator and the


the breathing circuit is made up of

supplies that hospitals already have on


we refer to it as the manual

resuscitator bag

the breathing circuit and the

endotracheal tube

the heart of the design is the ambu bag

a very common piece of equipment in


it's a manual respirator usually

squeezed by trained

medical personnel to push air into the

lungs of patients temporarily

you can't have one responder

per patient squeezing one of these

ambu bag things to ventilate people

so we need a little box to do that


ambu bags are common life-saving

equipment but they aren't designed for

long-term use

keeping the bag from wearing out too

quickly was the first challenge

the team needed to be able to use them

for weeks just like the electrically

powered ventilators usually used by


the general theme is be nice to your bag

because if this thing that's normally

meant to just be squished for an hour

has to do for two weeks you don't want

to break it

to do that they had to build a pair of

gentle yet robust robotic hands

that curved shape of the hands or the


it gives us that nice gentle rolling to

keep the center of the bag

happy originally the idea was to have a

design that could be created

in maker spaces around the world but

they soon discovered the machines would

need far more industrial materials if

they were going to keep covid19 patients


their first prototype used laser-cut

plastic for the hands

that plastic is fine for hobby projects

but it quickly failed when tested

this makerspace laser-cut plastic is no

good you need to design this thing so

you could kick it across the room

the solution they reinforced the hands

with metal

strengthening the robotic hands was an

easy design fix

now there was a new problem the

increased load on the machine's gears

and motors

their first design relies on a single

motor turning two gears

the gears engage each other so if you

move one hand the other hand will be

forced to go with it

and it works great it's a fine thing but

the gears

are highly stressed when you get to

these big loads of the covet patients

to fix this problem the team is

exploring a new idea

using two motors to control the two

hands separately

they found a possible solution in an

unlikely place

the front of nearly every car on earth

we're using windshield wiper motor

one of the most engineered things on the

planet i mean they're designed to go

well you know what they do they can beat

the tar out of them

it's easier in places around the world

to grab two wiper motors

because the ones we're using are nearly

ubiquitous then to require

relatively good manufacturing to get the

gear design to work

however as the designs continue to

evolve the control aspect of the machine

becomes more and more important if you

have two motors

now the software has to ensure that the

two motors

are well synchronized because otherwise

if one

one arm pushes and the other one forgets

to come in to help

you don't really have a working system

after consulting with doctors

a few necessary requirements became


one of the reasons ventilators work is

because they give healthcare workers

fine control

over the volume of air pushed into the

lungs how many breaths

per minute and the ratio of inhale to


so the team built a control board that

works like a retro stereo with big

turnable knobs even though in a very

simple design what what's the minimum

information we need so that someone is

respiratory trained

can make the necessary adjustments they

also had to include

critical alarms that would go off if the

pressure in the lungs was too much

or too little the doctor doesn't care

about the guts of the machine the doctor

just wants to adjust the knob and then

so that's where you have this balance


mechanical complexity and control


recently the team consulted with 10x

beta in new york to create

three thousand ventilators called the

spirowave and many teams around the

world are building

similar prototypes as covid19 spreads

the team wants to make sure that this

design can be used in local supply


especially where it might be difficult

to access normal ventilators

the website provides an interface for

people to leave feedback

and learn about what could work for

their own markets there's many different

mechanisms you can envision as people


and will the things that are the same

will be the forces

uh the alarms that are needed these

functional requirements

and then now it's up to the creative

people which they're all over the place

and then they can apply it to what they

do have for local production


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