Urbicum, a Polish start-up is running an open source project to build VentilAid. Anyone can join in.
VentilAid is supposed to cost 200$ and help about 50% of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
The idea is to have a ventilator that would allow one doctor to supervise even 100 patients connected to the device.
InnovateCEE: You are the co-author of VentilAid. What exactly is it?
Szymon Chrupczalski, VentilAid: VentilAid is a last chance ventilator. It is not designed to replace the professional ventilators or rescue patients who cannot breath at all. However, in the case of Covid-19 pandemic this device may help around 50 % of the hospitalised patients who remain conscious and whose lungs still work, at least partially. It is also cheap, as the cost of materials required to build one is estimated at 200 $. The device is under open licence.
What are the biggest challenges of this project?
Technically, a ventilator is a really simple device. The biggest challenge is the software, e.g. quick data readability , parameter settings, sensors.
Patients suffering from COVID-19 suffer from pleural effusion and develop pulmonary fibrosis. They suffocate because the air cannot migrate deep enough into the lung tissue. Therefore, such a patient needs to get a mixture of air and oxygen, or even oxygen alone, pumped under pressure. The most difficult thing is to keep the pressure constantly at the right level, high during inhalation and low during exhalation, so that the lungs are not collapsed or over-inflated
Of course, the doctor chooses the pressure value, but we can help him with appropriate software. If they can read the data easily and set the parameters quickly, they will spend less time on one patient’s device and will be able to attend to another patient. At the same time, the device has to alert the personnel if there are any changes on the patient side, e.g. if the mask is depressurised, the patient stops breathing or starts breathing at a different pace, loses consciousness. The device must detect this and immediately alert the medical personnel.
Why not copy the solutions used in professional ventilators?
We cannot do it for several reasons. First of all, the software in ventilators is extremely complex. Under normal circumstances companies would have been developing it for years. But we do not have years, we only have weeks. Secondly, our device must be as simple as possible, as cheap as possible and made of easily accessible parts. The manufacturers of ventilator sensors already tell us that there will be shortages on the market, because they cannot keep up with production.
Did you have to come up with your own solutions?
Yes, for example, a system to regulate oxygen supply. In professional ventilators there are special dosing valves and control sensors. The whole system is incredibly precise, but also incredibly complicated and cannot be replaced by something cheaper. This is why we did not copy, but invented our own solution. It is like combining an air and oxygen mixer with a system that sucks oxygen. The oxygen flows from a tank or from a generator and then it is let into a component we invented and printed out in 3D, which releases doses of oxygen as the patient inhales. The point is not to lose any gas.
Who are the constructors?
The core of the group consists a team of engineers and collaborators from our Urbicum start-up producing 3D printers. Of course, we have been consulting the device with doctors.
It is an open source project, so people from all over the world are joining us with their ideas. Ventilator service technicians have been very helpful. They wish to remain anonymous because they have shared much more than there is in the technical documentation and than they are allowed to. Retired service technicians help us a lot because they know older ventilators and have ideas on how to bypass some of the more advanced technology with simpler solutions. For example, we had problems mixing oxygen and air. Patients, depending on their condition, receive between 30% and even 90% oxygen. We did not know how to make an oxygen-air mixing system. One of the techs told us that in situations where there were problems with machines two tubes were connected directly to the patient – one with oxygen, another one with air. This also proved to be effective.
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You have already made the technical documentation for the first prototype of the ventilator public, but you are still developing the second prototype. Why?
Doctors advised us to do so. The first prototype has the same technical parameters as professional ventilators. However, it is so simple that none of the doctors in developed countries would connect a patient to it. There are no alarms, no extra sensors etc.
Medics have explained to us that during the pandemic the resource we are most lacking is medical staff. With a simple device, someone has to supervise it at all times, whereas the idea was to have one doctor supervise 100 devices simultaneously. This is possible with complicated sensor ventilators. They will save more patients if we give them a device for patients who are not in severe condition and are still able to breath. The doctors just need a few seconds to connect the patient to the machine, and they can move on to other cases.
When will the VentilAid be ready?
VentilAid is ready. The anaesthesiologists we are working with have already checked that it is possible to breathe on it. The materials required to assemble the device are downloadable at the moment. As soon as we are sure that the device is completely safe, e.g. there are no pressure deviations, we will ask the community to conduct tests on patients.
Szymon Chrupczalski is a founder of the idea and main manager at VentilAid project. He is also a co-owner and CEO at Urbicum, Polish manufacturer of industrial 3d printers.