MIT designs a $100 ventilator for those who can't afford to buy the $30,000 version

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Intelligent, fact-based creativity is the best antidote to the magical thinking that infects the Trump administration’s Coronavirus response. More smart people doing smart things, please.


I hope they don’t get sued. But will be willing to bet serious money that lawyers are already working on it.


I saw on the news a local business makes portable ventilators that are already FDA approved. But being a small business they aren’t actually making a bunch because they don’t have an order for them. And banks won’t loan him money to ramp up with out said order.
They also look a lot cheaper than the $30k kind.


I think this is great, and I’m somewhat tempted to make one of these DIY ventilators in case one of my loved ones needs a ventilator in the next month or two, and there isn’t one available. In some rare cases, having something might be better than nothing, right?

However, to paraphrase from someone I know with much more experience and knowledge than I have: “no hospital or responsible medical professional would connect a Class 3 medical device running off a lawn sprinkler/windshield wiper motor to a living human being.”


Hopefully a bunch of them, in a small closed room with poor ventilation, shoulder-to-shoulder. The more the better.


I’m only 80% sure that is true if the alternative is to just wheel the not-living-for-long human bring into the hallway for a half hour before loading them into a refrigerated truck.

Added: see pflanz’s note below on why this may not actually improve anyone’s chance at recovery


I can’t find the video, but there was one showing why a DIY bag-style ventilator isn’t appropriate for COVID-19 cases (there’s probably a bunch, because I’ve heard the criticisms quite a bit). I get “any port in a storm” but it sounds like in practice these are pretty inadequate for this use. The most generous thing I can think of is that maybe the cheaper ventilators can displace usage, opening up more appropriate ventilators for COVID-19 cases?

From memory, here were the specific concerns I remember: COVID-19 requires ventilator usage for weeks. These are only appropriate for < 24hrs of use because of how rough it is on the body. COVID-19 ravages the lungs and you need to crank up the ventilator settings pretty high–close to damaging the lungs.

  • These don’t offer intubation or conditioning of the incoming air (moisture and temp) for air going in the lungs. This causes further irritation and complications.
  • These push air into the lungs while ventilators actually respond to the person’s breath (you can add this with one of a few types of sensors and a microcontroller–but that increases cost and complexity)
  • Bag-style doesn’t measure the volume of air transferred–which is necessary if you’re using it close to lung capacity and for an extended period (this could be inferred with some math–but most designs don’t go that far)

I suggest anyone contemplating building a ventilator or commenting on how good idea these designs are to read this first: (it specifically comments on the MIT design)

And this:

These projects are solving the wrong problem. The problem is not lack of proven and certified designs, the problem is lack of supply chain/capacity to rapidly produce them in volume. That will still have to be solved regardless of whether that MIT hack (which is good to use only for a few hours tops!) or an actual medical ventilator is being built.

And before someone says - “But hey, this costs only $100 and not $30000 so developing countries can afford it too!” - that’s BS. Even developing country can’t afford a ventilator that will kill the patient connected to it if used for days. Covid-19 patients need ventilation for days, sometimes a week or more.

And the other problem is lack of trained staff to operate these things in quantities. That’s not something a tinkerer with an Arduino can solve.

A much more useful initiative are the various projects to build protective masks, face shields and similar gear. Not trying to build a ventilator while ignoring both the medical and regulatory requirements.


THIS THIS THIS times 1000.
“Operation” also requires constant “Monitoring”, not just plugging it in and walking away.


The crazy thing to me is tax payers literally ALREADY PAID for a public, cheap efficient design in partnership with Phillips. We bankrolled the R&D. They waited until the contract stipulated they could sell a commercial version and nary a econ model has been made for the stockpile:


It does seem there is a value to low cost ventilator designs that can be manufactured from available parts in non-ideal conditions. So much so that (as linked below) the US already bankrolled development of one that was also designed to be “easy to use” to supposedly require less frequent oversight by medical professionals. However, most of these bag squeezing kind are not that, they are just hacks. Those manual bags are basically designed to be used by EMTs to keep someone from dying in the ambulance, they are not suitable for keeping someone alive while they recover from a virus. Its like CPR. CPR is incredibly damaging to the body: it breaks your ribs, traumatizes your organs, and can impede breathing of anyone who is still able to work their own lungs even at diminished effectiveness. But it might keep you alive for a few minutes and that is important. But building a machine to do CPR style chest compression would not solve a shortage of defibrilators.

I actually think a good open-source ventilator project that actually addresses the clinical needs is a good idea, but it is almost certainly not going to be of use against COVID19. What we need now is to manufacture existing designs as quickly as possible, which is why the real efforts are when places like GM use their high volume manufacturing facilities and personnel to manufacture designs by existing medical devices. If the open hardware community doesn’t loose interest in a few months an open source design might help with the next pandemic, or for more local emergency situations in developing nations.

Also, while we need ventilators, and they are complicated enough to require a fair bit of lead time to ramp up, the PPE shortage is much more important. People who don’t get sick don’t require ventilators, and medical professionals that do get sick will not only use up resources like ventilators, but they won’t be available to treat people. Building face masks and shields is something lots of people and small businesses actually have the capability to do, and are urgently needed. Thankfully after weeks of everyone talking only about ventilators, a lot of people are stepping up to do this.


Some engineers are looking to modify breast pumps to function as low cost ventilators


That seems even less likely to work.


This isn’t a ventilator, it is an “automatic bagger”. Honestly, all of these articles that show off how some “whiz kid” or “tech genius” disrupted the ventilator market with their cheap hack need to stop, because they make it sound like our current problems are simply a lack of creativity. This is both incorrect and irresponsible.


I was so glad you posted that. For those

I think the biggest reason they’re interested in modifying them is that they are already FDA approved. Seems like whatever modifications that need to be made are doable with what the hardware is capable of, if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work but any efforts to get additional low cost ventilators to people is a worthwhile endeavor.

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But once you modify them, they aren’t FDA approved and any advantage goes out the window.

The FDA did release an emergency waiver of some sort that allows modification of some FDA approved equipment for emergency conditions. This has been used to experimentally double up ventilators – if two patients have closely matched needs this might work. Also, people have been looking at modifying CPAP and BIPAP machines to act as ventilators – but a BIPAP machine is a lot closer to a ventilator than a breast pump.

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