Irish project for easy-to-assemble Covid-19 ventilators bears fruit

Open Source 3D-printer ventilator project has prototypes ready to be validated by HSE

An Irish project to develop easy-to-assemble mechanically operated ventilators that could be used in the treatment of patients with Covid-19 is progressing well. It now has prototypes ready that may be validated for use by the Health Service Executive from as early as next week.

The Open Source Ventilator project is the brainchild of Colin Keogh, a 3D printing expert from UCD's school of engineering who has previously appeared on Forbes Magazine's "30 under 30" ranking of leading innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders. The project is seeking to develop a working ventilator that can be built using 3D printers and off-the-shelf components.

Mr Keogh told The Irish Times he thought it would be unlikely the finished product would be used by the HSE itself unless in extreme emergencies as they likely have sufficient equipment. However, he added it could be used in an emergency locally and also in other countries that don’t have as many resources.

“We’re confident it won’t be needed here, but if we get terribly unlucky then it would be good to have something ready to go that has parts which are either 3D-printable or use components that are easily available and even already used in other devices,” he added.


‘Better safe than sorry’

“We want to have something ready rather than be starting from scratch. It is very much a better-safe-than-sorry scenario,” Mr Keogh added.

As Covid-19 spreads across the globe, there is a shortage of ventilators in many countries. The American Hospital Association, for example, has estimated 1.9 million US citizens may need to be admitted to intensive care units (ICU) due to Covid-19, with 960,000 requiring breathing support on a ventilator. It is thought there is nowhere sufficient equipment currently available.

The idea for the open source ventilator project arose after Gui Cavalcanti, co-founder and chief executive of Silicon Valley-based company Breeze Automation, posted on social media asking for experts to collaborate to develop much-needed medical equipment that could be built quickly and cheaply. Some 300 computer engineers, scientists, doctors and researchers are now involved in projects globally.

Innovation projects

Mr Keogh and David Pollard, his co-founder in the recently founded company Sapien Innovation, decided to get busy working on an Irish-focused project and teamed up with Conall Laverty of the highly regarded internet of things start-up Wia to kick start the initiative.

“We decided we’d focus our efforts in Ireland. We have worked with the HSE before on innovation projects, and someone heard about what we were doing and got in touch and said they would consider testing any device that we came up with,” he said.

“We have six prototypes that are ready to be manufactured and tested with validation by the HSE likely from next week.

“Developed countries may be able to cope with Covid-19, but emerging nations may find it that much harder to overcome. So our overarching goal is to develop a functional medical device that will be certified for use in extreme emergencies,” Mr Keogh said.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist