A dozen anesthesiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital kicked off a public challenge April 1 to design a rapidly deployable, low-cost ventilator that could address shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in developing countries. Three months later a team of engineering alumnae, staff, and faculty from Smith College had taken a winning design from concept through working prototype.
The next step could be a final product for regulatory approval in Nigeria, just one of the countries that have been talking with the CoVent-19 Challenge organizers.
The 30-person Smith College team collaborated on a simplified, cost-effective, easily manufactured pneumatic design specifically tailored to COVID-19 patient needs. The SmithVent design, which costs 1/10th the price of a traditional ventilator, combines economical proportional-solenoid-valve technology with an air-oxygen mixing chamber to meet the full set of requirements for COVID-19 ventilation.
The team primarily used readily available, off-the-shelf components, which reduced custom machining and improved compatibility with other medical equipment. The enclosure, ISO fittings, and mounting blocks can be produced using FFF- or stereolithography-style 3D printers. The design is open source, allowing anyone to download, use, and improve the design.
Smith College Engineering Professor Susannah Howe said the timeline was intense. “To a person, we came into this not knowing anything about ventilators,” she said. “In two months, we went from knowing nothing to having a functional prototype. That’s just crazy.”
Two other teams were also recognized by the CoVent-19 Challenge judges. The second-place design, InVent, was submitted by a team comprised of Fuse Project, a design and innovation firm founded by Swiss designer Yves Behar, and Cionic, a medical device technology start-up. The InVent prototype is a pneumatically driven ventilator optimized for a COVID-19 healthcare context that can be assembled in under four hours.
The third-place prototype, RespiraWorks, was developed by a global team of dozens of engineers, healthcare workers, and other professionals that bring a focus on developing countries and low-resource communities. The model uses a sophisticated blower-based ventilation system, simplified assembly and manufacturing, and high-quality, open-source software. Parts are designed to be available from local supply chains around the world.
Mass General anesthesiologist Dr. Richard Boyer, founder and codirector of the CoVent-19 Challenge, said when the group began planning the challenge in March, it was unclear if there would be enough ventilators even in the United States to treat pandemic patients.
“Our focus has since shifted to developing countries, where we’re seeing high death rates and limited resources to deal with the ravages of this new disease,” he said. “The test bed we developed gives us a lot of confidence in the performance of the winning prototype, and frankly there is probably tremendous value in getting other finalist designs out into the world too.”