Read more articles about Plan C: What makers are doing to combat Covid-19

When news came out that shortages of ventilators could be a problem, many saw the need for alternatives to those from large manufacturers and rushed in to create them. In contrast to the industrial ones, these designs were open and shared. Now, Robert Read and his group have compiled and begun systematically scoring a ranking of over 80 such open source projects.

Their work is something of a milestone in the public R&D effort to solve problems. For the many who were building ventilators, this group saw the need for independent evaluation and testing of different designs. This scrutiny provides important feedback for designers as well as future builders. It is a service that one might expect a government regulator to provide, if they could move this fast.

We caught up with Read and collaborators Geoff Mulligan, Lauria Clarke, Juan E. Villacres Perez, and Avinash Baskaran to learn about their research, which includes a call for modular assembly designs to allow for distributed manufacturing, and their own proposal for testing and monitoring these systems, which they call VentMon.

Some highlights from Read and team:

“Building this spreadsheet has convinced people that this problem is 90% testing and 10% design.”

“The government agencies right now probably don’t understand our point of view that an open source project is more trustworthy because it can be vetted by an enormous number of people, and it can be done independently.”

“Instead of building ventilators, what people need to do is to modularize the ventilator project itself, so that your typical Make: magazine reader can work on a small part of the ventilator, not be responsible for the whole ventilator themselves.”
“You can’t have these all built in one place and get them to where they’re needed.”

“One thing that is important to understand for the average maker who wants to consider this is  many of these designs might not be COVID-19 suitable. Unfortunately, even the doctors are unclear on exactly what is needed and they’re learning things every week.”

“We’ve proposed a process for how we could open source the verification of these ventilators as well. So the idea here is in order to convince, rightfully skeptical, medical administrators or the government that something works, you have a high burden of proof in this case.”

“VentMon is just a Lego piece that could be attached to the sanitizer, could be attached to the next piece.”

“I would say probably these will not be used in the United States. But I would not be at all surprised if one of these designs or a variant, something that grows out of one of these designs is deployed in the thousands in some of the places that have less resources than Europe.

You can follow Read’s endeavors on Medium. Learn more about his organization Public Invention here.

Feature image: MUR (Minimal Universal Respirator)