Irish researchers make ventilator from windscreen-wiper motor and plywood

Team has released design plan that requires no software, or electronic expertise, online

A team of Irish researchers have created a ventilator using plywood, and used parts from cars and personal computers, which they say can be made anywhere in the world for under €50.

The project has been led by IT Sligo creative design lecturer David Roberts who believes the ventilator could make the difference between life and death in developing countries where medics are struggling to cope with a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The team has released the design plan online “in an effort to save lives” and according to Mr Roberts no software, or electronic expertise, is needed.

He said a key component of the ventilator is the motor from a car windscreen wiper, while the power supply comes from defunct personal computers.


He and colleagues have also designed a helmet-like Covid mask sourcing material from a local boat-cover manufacturer and pipes from Sligo County Council, as well as using material from recycled wetsuits.

The lecturer was inspired by a story he read some years ago about a young Chinese man who was paralysed from the neck down after a motorcycle accident, whose family kept him alive for five years by squeezing a ventilator by hand hundreds of times a day.

Over 60

The lecturer said when he read last year that anyone over 60 in Italy would not get a ventilator, it had focused his mind. "I am over 60 and if I needed a ventilator I would be happy to use my own," said the engineer.

While the Italian authorities subsequently denied that only people under 60 were being intubated, the IT Sligo researchers, who liaised with engineers in Clare and Limerick, were aware of the ethical dilemmas being faced by doctors worldwide because of the pandemic.

The team, who consulted with medics from Sligo University Hospital and University Hospital Limerick, manufactured 10 mechanical ventilators, which they intended to make available to Irish hospitals in the event of emergencies, but the feared shortage of equipment did not materialise.

“Everyone thought in the early stages that ventilators would be in short supply but, for example, the first wave did not hit Sligo hospital badly,” said Mr Roberts.

While his hope is that nobody would ever need to use the ventilator they created, he is confident of its effectiveness.

A key aspect of the project was that the materials needed were easily available anywhere in the world, with no requirement for 3D printing technology or software, he said.

"I grew up in the Far East and Africa and I have some idea of life on the ground in tropical countries and how needs must," said the lecturer. He said he was aware of a recent Covid-19 surge in Indonesia, for example, and feared there would be other countries with limited access to technology who might find their design useful.

‘Difficult decisions’

His colleague Dr Gerard McGranaghan, a member of Engineers Without Borders, who served as a United Nations volunteer in Nepal, also worked on the project. He said the ventilator would be useful "in life-or-death situations or where doctors are facing difficult decisions".

“It would be better if it was not needed,” he added.

Mr Roberts said he believed that posting the design online would be more effective than trying to manufacture it in Ireland and export it.

“We believe it could be made anywhere. You would want to be desperate but it could save lives”.

Design details and instructions on

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland