Rice University students develop cheap, automated ventilator system: Report

It has become abundantly clear throughout the coronavirus pandemic that the one piece of equipment that everybody desperately wants to get their hands on is a ventilator, which can be used to treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

Typically, such ventilators are complex and expensive pieces of machinery, but now, a group of students at Rice University in Texas — in conjunction with a Canada-based global health firm known as Metric Technologies — has developed a surprisingly low-cost and largely automated ventilator system, KHOU in Houston reports.

Amy Kavalewitz, executive director of the school’s engineering department, told KHOU, “The immediate goal is a device that works well enough to keep noncritical COVID-19 patients stable and frees up larger ventilators for more critical patients.”

Cheap and easy to produce

Using advanced 3D printing technology and laser-cut parts, it reportedly took the team of students less than one week to develop a prototype of a ventilator system that could cost as little as $300.

Incredibly, the team also intends to share the plans for the inexpensive ventilator online and make them available for free to anyone in the world who would like to make the equipment for themselves, according to KHOU.

Several weeks ago, around the time the pandemic began to spread inside the U.S., the team of students joined with administrators and staff to discuss a way in which they could use their skills and talents to help.

They quickly turned to a project begun in 2019 on an automated bag valve mask — which can quickly prove quite tiresome when worked by hand — that could be used by emergency medical service (EMS) personnel to assist patients with difficulty breathing, KHOU reported.

That initial prototype was reworked in part and made more robust to become an automated ventilator, and has now been deemed to be medical grade, even as it remains inexpensive enough to be considered disposable.

Desperately needed

This new product has been dubbed the ApolloBVM, and already there is a clamor from interested entities in producing it in bulk, including the Defense Department and U.S. Navy, which has been looking for an inexpensive mechanical ventilation support system that can be quickly and cheaply reproduced, according to KHOU.

To be sure, particularly severe cases of COVID-19 will likely still require the larger and more expensive ventilators found in hospitals, but as was noted by the engineering director, this product can help relieve the stress of the worldwide ventilator shortage by helping less severe patients. It can also be used by EMS workers responding to emergency calls prior to arrival at a hospital.

This is wonderful news and just goes to show what sort of amazing results can come about when an innovative spirit is combined with advanced technologies in a time of need.

Hopefully, this new product proves as easy and inexpensive to mass-produce so a potential crisis over a lack of available ventilators can be averted.

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