A team at Rice University has developed an automated bag valve mask ventilation unit that can be built for less than $300 in parts and help patients in treatment for COVID-19. The university expects to make plans to build the unit freely available online. Up-to-date details about the project, dubbed the ApolloBVM, and its progress are available here: http://oedk.rice.edu/apollobvm/
Tonight, [Thomas] Herring and five other engineers are rushing to finish a project that is arguably among the most consequential in the world at the moment, one that could be deployed to the public as early as next week: a $300 3D-printable automated ventilator.
If successful, the ventilation unit—a DIY device that looks like the work of a high school robotics club—could go into mass production as early as next week, offering hospitals around the world a way to address a ventilator shortage that is expected to kill thousands of coronavirus patients suffering from the respiratory illness in the coming weeks.
High-quality ventilators like the kinds hospitals rely on can easily cost $10,000 apiece. Faced with shortages, doctors might soon have to make tough decisions about redistributing them from older patients to younger, healthier ones, many experts believe.
Many hospitals have an abundant supply, however, of bag valve masks, which are hand-operated ventilators that are inefficient and difficult for one person to operate for more than an hour at a time; they require a rotation of people to keep the patient alive.
The Rice prototype automates the pumping of the bag and can be specifically calibrated for each patient’s needs. With mechanized bag valve masks on hand, hospitals could buy themselves some time, allowing them to redistribute limited resources, move patients to other facilities, or allow family members the chance to say goodbye to loved ones who have no chance of recovery and might otherwise be taken off in-demand machines.
The Rice team believes they can eventually lower the cost of their units to somewhere between $100 and $200. The low cost was built into the engineering. The machines were designed using laser cutters and 3D printers, as well as parts that can be found in most hardware stores. “Houston and the rest of the U.S. may have manufacturers that can make these things by the hundreds,” Kavalewitz said, “but a small hospital in Malawi doesn’t have that luxury, but we’ll be able to give the plans to save lives.”
The Department of Defense is interested in their design and several Texas Fortune 500 companies have expressed interest in producing the model, team members say. The governor of Tennessee has also expressed interest in purchasing the machines once they’re completed.