The COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced many clear examples of why organizations are better off when cooperating and collaborating while developing healthcare solutions. The work of Helpful Engineering and Public Invention are examples of this model of effective collaboration. By bringing together teams from across the globe, the two organizations achieved rapid success in globally designing and locally producing open source ventilator solutions. Both groups realized the benefits of working together during their respective journeys and now actively share their lessons learned to help others achieve similar results in their efforts.
Ventilators remain in high demand; hospitals worldwide continue to have a desperate need for the devices since the onset of the pandemic. The most problematic has been the availability, accessibility, and acceptability of available solutions. Existing ventilators on the market are cost-prohibitive. Current service and support models limit self-service when necessary, making purchasing the devices impossible for or unacceptable to many Low/Middle Resource Countries (LMIC). These challenges are complex and surface inherent limitations of existing regulatory frameworks, which lag behind current manufacturing technologies and capabilities.
With the Delta variant of CoVIDnow sweeping the globe — accounting for 80% of new COVID-19 cases — there is a renewed interest in and momentum for relief efforts. Open solutions exist that can support these relief efforts, but they require regulators to understand and modernize regulatory processes for open source and distributed medical device manufacturing.
Nathaniel Bechard, a 16-year-old Canadian designer and prototyper for PolyVent, and Rob Read from the US, who leads the VentOS project, have teamed up to design ventilators easy to manufacture in LMICs. Public Invention and Helpful sponsor both projects. VentOS is a free, open-source software library and embedded operating system for ventilation equipment; PolyVent is a versatile ‘reference ventilator design’ producible with diverse materials and components.
Collaboration between the respective teams involved in this ventilator hardware and software design has generated a broader circle of knowledge and leveraged the collective experience of all team members. Hailing from the US, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, the teams work in a distributed manner. Because the group is international, they learn to accommodate the various potential environmental issues each geographical implementation may require.
As a result of this global collaboration, we have learned this way of working together realizes the following benefits:
- Fast Learning Cycles
Teams working in collaboration learn from collective successes and failures. They are not limited to individual experiences. When a team surfaces a challenge, supporting teams are instantly able and ready to generate new ideas leading to solutions.
2. Elimination of Geographic Constraints Increases Talent Brought to Bear
Collaboration means bringing diverse talent together and establishing a broad pool of different skills and knowledge. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the usage of many applications allowing global communication, file sharing, and distributed teamwork have become commonplace. Significant benefits have been realized by sharing information and knowledge, regardless of timezone or physical location. Geographical distribution improves the strength of the team rather than slows down its progress.
3. Breaking down barriers
Finding available, accessible, and acceptable solutions has never been more urgent for practical COVID-19 medical relief efforts. The work of individuals like Nathaniel and Rob in producing open-source innovations like (PolyVent) and (VentOS) enables solutions to be made locally and helps address challenges like supply chain disruption and hoarding. Parts or components can be adapted and substituted to address local environmental considerations. For example, field hospitals in rainy parts of the world have different climactic concerns than hospitals in hot, dry, desert climates.
These software and hardware projects enable local teams to create tailored ventilators based on PolyVent’s and VentOS’s reference designs. Local populations can produce critical resources faster and with ownership of the final product. These localized executions can even be further tweaked to meet specific community needs.
Our mission includes the support of global health through collaborative, open, and sustainable innovation. Collaborative approaches to development have clear and demonstrable benefits. We have found collaboration fosters a sense of community and purpose at local and global levels and builds a culture of mutual support across these communities. Nathaniel and Rob Read’s partnership is an excellent example of what can happen when people have access to knowledge and resource, resulting in impactful solutions.
If you are interested in making a difference by supporting open-source hardware and software development, we encourage you to reach out to Helpful Engineering and Public Invention. We welcome anyone and everyone passionate about making a positive difference, just as all of us are!