Open-Source Designs for Low-Cost Ventilators

A team of researchers created designs to turn inexpensive and readily available manual, hand-held, bag valve mask (BVM) resuscitators into automated ventilators to help fill the gap between the number of lifesaving ventilators available and the much larger number needed when COVID-19 peaked this past spring.

The WPI researchers made designs of multiple devices and their components publicly available so anyone with a 3D printer and a background in electronics and mechanical engineering could use them to produce ventilators for their local hospitals.

“I just wanted to do something to help,” says Gregory Fischer, professor of robotics engineering and mechanical engineering, and director of PracticePoint, who spearheaded the idea. “A lot of people are trying to contribute, and this is an area where we can make an impact. We’re taking things that are used every day in emergency medicine and finding a way to turn them into safe, reliable, and readily replicable ventilators that can save patients’ lives. And we’re sharing those designs with the world.”

The team, who worked remotely to develop their designs, includes Marko Popovic, assistant research professor in physics and robotics engineering; Cagdas Onal, associate professor of mechanical engineering; Dirk Albrecht, associate professor of biomedical engineering; Chris Nycz, a research scientist working with WPI’s PracticePoint; Paulo Carvalho, a robotics engineering doctoral candidate, and Hamilton White, a PhD student in biomedical engineering.

A commercial ventilator costs anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000. A complete ventilator converted from a manual resuscitator with the WPI designs is expected to cost less than $500 and be made with readily available components.

“This is what we do at WPI,” says Popovic. “Given the current situation with COVID-19, the need for oxygen concentrators and ventilators is growing exponentially. This is a very unusual situation for our healthcare system. We can help, so we’re helping.”

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