A group of Spanish innovators is attempting to alleviate the Covid-19 ventilator crisis by developing an ultra-simple machine that uses a car windscreen-wiper motor to turn a manual resuscitation bag into automated breathing aid.
The machine can be made in four hours by an untrained person, using simple materials such as wood, acrylic or aluminium. “You don’t need special tools. All you need is a saw,” says Lluís Rovira Leranoz, a Barcelona-based robotics maker at prototyping company Protofy, one of the leads on the OxyGEN project.
Blueprints for the device are available on the OxyGEN site, free for anyone to download.
The first devices could be made available to Spanish hospitals within days, with car manufacturer Seat standing by to start producing them in volume, as soon as they have passed initial safety tests.
“These devices are not perfect, they have risks and we hope to never to have to use them except as a last resort,” says Rovira Leranoz.
But the last resort has already arrived at so many Spanish hospitals. Two local healthcare facilities — Hospital Germans Trías i Pujol and Hospital Clínic de Barcelona — have already reached out to the team to see if they can get hold of the device.
“One hospital told us that they have only 60 respirators and they are all already in use — and the epidemic is not stopping,” says Rovira Leranoz.
The blueprints for the device are available on the OxyGEN site, free for anyone to download, and the team says it has had enquiries from around the world — from the US to India and Argentina about using them. Seat has said that, if the design works, it could also use its car manufacturing facilities in China and Mexico to make the devices.
We’ve learned a lot about ventilator numbers in the last few weeks. The UK has around 5,000. The US has somewhere around 100,000. Hamilton Medical, a leading ventilator manufacturer, usually makes about 220 a week and hopes to ramp up production to 400, but that will come nowhere near bridging the shortfall the world faces from an escalating Covid-19 crisis.
Engineering companies including Airbus, Jaguar Land Rover, Unipart and Rolls-Royce have promised to convert factories to manufacture ventilators, but this could take several weeks to set up.
Some stop-gap measures are going to be needed in the meantime.
Makers around the world are racing to develop different solutions to the ventilator crisis. A young team of 3D printing engineers at Issinova, in Italy, have collaborated with sportswear company Decathlon to turn a snorkelling mask into a DIY ventilator.