Project Spotlight: OpenVent-Bristol

OpenVent-Bristol is a “low-tech” ventilator that can be used for treatment of COVID-19 in developing countries.

Written by: Tif Ho


The Challenge

On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. As the number of cases of the disease has risen, countries have faced an increasing shortage in medical supplies. Amongst this dire shortage has been ventilators.

Ventilators are an important last-resort tool for treating COVID-19. While these machines are by no means a guarantee of survival, they can reduce fatality for extreme cases of COVID-19 that involve Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). ARDS results from vascular damage to the lungs so that individuals cannot get enough oxygen to their bloodstream, causing major organ failure and death.

For some hospitalized COVID-19 patients, ventilators are the difference between life and death. Ventilators perform two critical functions for individuals who cannot breathe on their own. These functions are: (1) pulling oxygen into lungs and bloodstream, and (2) clearing out carbon dioxide.

In fact, UK-based medical professional, Emilio Garcia, states, “COVID 19 is a terrible disease that affects different people differently but most commonly causing type 1 and type 2 respiratory failure. This means people will need increasing amounts of oxygen. But once they develop type 2 respiratory failure due to tiredness, the only way to support them is to perform mechanical ventilation. Mechanical ventilation allows them to overcome the work of breathing but also to administer variable amounts of oxygen.

According to pulmonary and critical care specialist, Dr. Colin Cook, with the use of a ventilator, the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients is in the 20% to 30% range. Problematically, manufacturers and distributors have been unable to meet the forecasted demand for 880,000 ventilators globally.

The Solution

As COVID-19 spread throughout the world, U.K. designer Darren Lewis started the OpenVent-Bristol project for the purpose of creating an open-source ventilator for Coronavirus patients. Lewis works for Dyson’s new product team in the U.K. and has extensive experience in creating and prototyping new concepts. In an effort to apply his skills to the COVID-19 pandemic, he reached out to individuals through his personal network and through LinkedIn, bringing together a team of talented volunteers. The OpenVent-Bristol team is made up of project lead Darren Lewis, mechanical engineer Ross Goodwin, electronics designer Angus Thomson, software developer Donald Robson, and safety engineer Sam Riley. In March 2020, the team created an open-source design for a ventilator.

OpenVent-Bristol Ventilator-Diagram-Version 1.0

OpenVent-Bristol Ventilator Diagram, Version 1.0. This design was created in March and has been superseded by newer prototypes.

Soon afterward, several U.S. volunteers started the Offset Ventilator project in order to combat COVID-19. This talented team includes Brian Finch, Christian Taran, Jonas Fehr, Clay Gillmore, and Ammon Dayley.

The Offset Ventilator team found the OpenVent-Bristol project and began working on a ventilator build. Later on, the Offset Ventilator team reached out to the OpenVent-Bristol team to collaborate, and in recent weeks, the two teams have come together under the OpenVent-Bristol name, led by Darren Lewis.

In order to deal with the challenges of availability and costs, the OpenVent-Bristol team has designed a ventilator that has numerous advantages over traditional ventilators.

Traditional ventilators are complex, which causes delays in manufacturing and distribution and also increases cost. In contrast, the OpenVent-Bristol ventilator is designed for rapid production and cost-effectiveness.

Firstly, the OpenVent-Bristol ventilator is an open-source design, which means that anyone with the capabilities can manufacture it.

Secondly, the ventilator is made from readily-available materials and manufacturing processes, thereby reducing the need for complex materials and processes. This decreases the costs associated with building and enables the manufacture of the ventilator in countries with less capable manufacturing facilities and unstable supply chains.


OpenVent-Bristol Ventilator Prototype, Version 3.0.

The OpenVent-Bristol ventilator is a mechanical ventilator. It is constructed from a laser-cut stainless steel sheet that provides strength, water resistance, and biocompatibility (meaning that the ventilator is created from materials that are safe for patient use). An LCD user interface displays easy-to-read values for airway pressure and tidal volume, while a membrane button panel minimizes crevices for germs to hide. The ventilator includes a simple mechanism that allows it to be mounted to a motor and a standard 22mm tapered push-fit-air outlet that is compatible with existing tubing.

An adjustable PEEP valve maintains positive pressure at all times, whereby air is blown into the lungs rather than sucked in. This is important because many patients with extreme COVID-19 cannot draw in air on their own.

Additionally, in the OpenVent-Bristol ventilator, a Bag Valve Mask (BVM, proprietary name AMBU) is used – providing familiarity to medical professionals worldwide. Additionally, the ventilator includes visual monitoring for visual feedback of bag compression and of airway pressure. As a result, the ventilator is intended to be simple and intuitive for medical professionals to use.

OpenVent-Bristol features include the BVM (top left), PEEP valve (top right), and visual monitoring (bottom).

Feedback from Medical Professionals

Project Lead, Darren Lewis, has sought feedback on the OpenVent-Bristol ventilator from several medical professionals. These individuals include Emilio Garcia and Daniel Steman, a respiratory care manager at Keck Medical Center in California. 

With regards to the ventilator, Garcia says, “This ingenious device allows the use of a simple and ubiquitous self-inflating bag, commonly referred to as AMBU bag, as a ventilator. In places where more sophisticated ventilators are not available, this product can become invaluable as it will allow the support of patients in respiratory failure.

The OpenVent-Bristol design is simple to use and has a good battery life which allows the patient to be transferred between facilities. As its centre mechanism is an Ambu bag. Due to its adaptive modes, lung protection is simple as it allows spontaneous breathing and can be pressure limited. Whereas is not a substitute for a more sophisticated ventilator it can become invaluable in places where there is a crisis and a lack of equipment.” 

Steman follows this up with, “We know that having a ventilator is key to the survival of patients with respiratory failure regardless of COVID. This new situation with the pandemic has caused difficult decisions to be made regarding who should get the privilege of being mechanically ventilated and this is not something medical professionals are used to doing. The OpenVent-Bristol design ventilator may help us avoid these difficult decisions and instead allow for the standard of care to be unchanged.

One very cool feature of the OpenVent is that it has a simple spontaneous mode of ventilation. This is a key stand out feature that would aid in the weaning process and allow healthcare workers to liberate patients from the machines in the normal way. I have not seen this type of logic built into the other COVID response simple vent designs. Bravo.”


Current Progress

The OpenVent-Bristol ventilator was created to meet the standards of the U.K.’s Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The team is also currently working on developing the ventilator to meet the U.S.’s Food & Drug (FDA) emergency ventilator standards.

Lewis says that the benefit of meeting these specific sets of regulations is that, due to their stringency of requirements, a ventilator that can meet MHRA or FDA standards will likely meet the majority of health standards of other countries as well.

Currently, the team is on its third prototype of the ventilator, with the V2.0 prototype having successfully undergone a performance testing with a sophisticated test lung at the National Physical Laboratory in the U.K.

OpenVent-Bristol-Contact Form on Website

How You Can Help

As OpenVent-Bristol progresses, the project team will continue to need help. The team is currently seeking:

  • Funding
  • Volunteers
  • Users who have used or may use a similar machine and who can provide feedback
  • Manufacturers, in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, to take over building the ventilators
  • Buyers, including doctors and hospital procurement staff, to pre-order the ventilators

Want to volunteer?

Fill in the contact form at, or contact @Darren Lewis and/or @Cristian Taran on Helpful Engineering’s Slack.

Want to donate?

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Waste as a Resource: Charting the Journey of Plastic into Roads

Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

Plastic waste, omnipresent and seemingly immortal, pervades every corner of our planet. Once celebrated as the marvel of modern innovation, it now stands as a monument to our unchecked consumption. However, the tide is turning. From waste emerges an unexpected solution: using plastic waste in road construction.

The basic premise revolves around using plastic waste as a partial substitute for bitumen in roads. But how is this concept fairing on the ground? Let’s delve into five case studies from around the world:


Perhaps one of the earliest adopters of this method, India has paved thousands of kilometers of roads using plastic waste. The southern city of Chennai has been at the forefront. Their approach involves shredding the plastic to a specific size before mixing it with bitumen.

Learnings: The roads demonstrate increased resilience, especially during the monsoons. However, the importance of maintaining a consistent plastic size was a significant lesson, ensuring even distribution and longevity.

The Netherlands

This European nation took a modular approach. They introduced plastic road surfaces as pre-fabricated blocks, making installation and maintenance more manageable.

Learnings: The modular nature allows for quicker repair and replacement. Moreover, these blocks, when worn out, can be recycled, further pushing the sustainability envelope.

South Africa

Here, the approach was more community-centric. By involving local communities in plastic collection, not only were roads built, but jobs were also created.

Learnings: Beyond just infrastructure development, the project showcased how environmental solutions could have socio-economic benefits. The community ownership also ensured consistent plastic waste supply and road maintenance.


Down under, they embarked on a pilot project in Melbourne by using a mix of recycled plastics equivalent to plastics from over 3 million plastic bags, along with glass and toners from used print cartridges.

Learnings: The diversity in the type of plastics used provided a more comprehensive blueprint for cities worldwide. It emphasized the need for rigorous testing to determine the right mix and highlighted the potential to incorporate other recyclable materials.

United Kingdom

The UK’s approach was heavily research-driven. They launched trials in Cumbria to understand the long-term effects of plastic roads.

Learnings: The UK’s focus on research underscored the importance of longitudinal studies. While immediate benefits are evident, understanding the environmental and structural impact over years or decades is crucial for widespread adoption.

While these successes chart a hopeful course, the journey of integrating plastic waste into roads is not without its challenges:

  • Type of Plastic: Not all plastics are suited for road construction. This necessitates thorough segregation and compatibility checks.
  • Environmental Impact: There’s a risk of microplastics being released into the environment as roads wear down.
  • Health Concerns: Toxic fumes released during the melting process could pose health risks to workers and nearby communities.
  • Durability and Performance: The long-term performance of plastic roads in different conditions remains a topic of study.
  • Recycling Limitations: Some plastics lose their structural integrity after being recycled multiple times, impacting road longevity.
  • End-of-Life Management: The disposal of worn-out plastic roads without causing environmental harm is an unresolved challenge.
  • Economic Viability: Balancing the costs of treating and integrating plastic can be a hurdle.
  • Public Perception and Acceptance: Garnering public support and addressing concerns are essential for this initiative’s success.
  • Regulatory and Standards Development: The absence of standardized guidelines can complicate the construction process.
  • Supply Chain Challenges: Ensuring a consistent supply of suitable plastic waste, especially in less urbanized regions, can be challenging.

These examples, spread across different continents, highlight the adaptability and potential of integrating plastic waste into road construction. But it’s more than just a technical solution; it’s a paradigm shift. The message is clear: what we deem ‘waste’ today could be the ‘resource’ of tomorrow.

Each case study, with its unique approach and lessons, illustrates the significance of context. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but the underlying theme remains consistent — innovation, adaptability, and sustainability are key.

As we reflect on these global efforts, it becomes evident that the journey of plastic waste from being discarded to paving our roads is a testament to human ingenuity and resilience. Through these case studies, we discover myriad ways to reimagine waste, reshape infrastructure, and redefine the future. It’s a potent reminder that innovation emerges from challenges, and with commitment and vision, the path to change is always within reach.

Waste as a Resource: Charting the Journey of Plastic into Roads was originally published in Helpful Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Akon: An Odyssey of Light and Empowerment

Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash

Akon and Andy Rabens Pose For Photos with Entrepreneurs

In the sprawling expanses of Africa, as twilight descends, a new beacon of hope emerges. Not from global energy moguls or international benefactors, but from the pulsating world of music. At the helm? Akon. Once a maestro of chart-topping hits, he’s now orchestrating a different kind of rhythm: a rhythm of transformation.

Much of Africa’s tale has been shadowed by the absence of dependable electricity. Remote hamlets plunged into twilight, their only respite being the toxic fumes of kerosene lamps. But with Senegalese roots grounding him, Akon envisioned a brighter narrative.

Solar Embrace

Treading into the vast potential of the continent, Akon’s endeavor was nothing short of audacious. His ‘Akon Lighting Africa’ initiative, set in motion in 2014, sought to electrify remote corners across 25 nations. Aiming to impact a staggering 600 million lives, it was a symphony of ambition and altruism.

Central to this narrative was the sun. Africa, eternally kissed by sunlight, had its potent energy often overlooked. Akon and his team sought to capture this perennial force. Solar panels, once mere passive structures, were transformed into catalysts for change.

They bypassed the need for expansive infrastructures typically associated with traditional power. By decentralizing energy, Akon’s approach empowered communities at a granular level. Each village, each home, could become a fortress of self-reliance. This isn’t just electrification; it’s emancipation.

Empowering the Grassroots

A critical facet of Akon’s strategy was its deep-rooted commitment to nurturing local talent. This wasn’t a superficial transplantation of Western technology. Instead, a robust drive was undertaken to train local engineers and budding entrepreneurs.

By 2021, a formidable 5,000 individuals had been molded, ensuring that the projects didn’t just illuminate, but also invigorated. A local with the expertise to manage these solar setups ensured continuity. This wasn’t mere infrastructural deployment; it was the birth of an entirely new vocational realm. Here was a circular philosophy at play: knowledge and skills didn’t just arrive; they stayed, grew, and prospered.

A Financial Masterstroke

Financing such an ambitious venture was no small feat. Traditional models, often myopic in their vision, failed to grasp the intricacies of rural African electrification. But Akon and his team sketched a different blueprint.

With a deft mix of public and private alliances, they channeled investments from entities passionate about genuine societal impact. This wasn’t just about monetary gains; it was about dividends in human progress. The strategy cultivated sustainable growth without saddling nations with crushing debt.

In Akon’s journey, we glimpse more than just benevolence. It’s a masterclass in synergy, in uniting profit with purpose, leveraging sustainable avenues, and bestowing power upon local communities. It’s a circular dance of progress where every step forward is a leap for an entire community.

From the rhythm of his melodies, Akon once moved the world. Today, through the hum of countless electrified villages, he’s rewiring the continent’s future. One panel, one village, one heartbeat at a time.

The Lighthouse Effect and Africa’s Renaissance

Akon’s ambitious endeavor to illuminate the heart of Africa wasn’t just a testament to his commitment to his roots, but it became a beacon for many African celebrities and influencers who had made their name on international shores.

His journey began a ripple effect, sparking a reverse brain drain and an emergent African identity that champions global knowledge but with deeply rooted African solutions.

The Reverse Brain Drain

Historically, many of Africa’s best and brightest pursued opportunities abroad due to limited resources and infrastructural challenges at home. This led to a “brain drain,” where talent flocked to Western countries. However, Akon’s investment in Africa’s potential has ignited a trend that defies this narrative.

Returning Talent

Following Akon’s steps, several prominent personalities like Didier Drogba, the famed Ivorian footballer, established charitable foundations. Drogba’s foundation, in particular, has been involved in various health and education initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire. The success stories of these initiatives began attracting Africans abroad to consider returning home, leveraging their global experiences and network to make a difference.

Skills and Expertise

The returnees brought more than just capital. They brought with them skills, experiences, and insights from some of the world’s best institutions and companies. They began setting up enterprises, tech hubs, and initiatives in fields ranging from renewable energy to digital innovation and education.

Collaborative Initiatives

Akon’s venture prompted collaboration. Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji, for instance, used her platform to emphasize the importance of education and has actively participated in projects aimed at building schools in rural regions. Her collaboration with other returnees and foreign institutions is a testament to the synergies now taking root in Africa.

Crafting a New African Identity

Akon’s initiative has not only been about electrifying homes but also about reigniting pride in African identity.

Homegrown Solutions

This renewed identity champions the philosophy of “For Africa, By Africa.” Instead of wholly importing foreign solutions, there’s a significant emphasis on tailoring interventions to the unique challenges and strengths of African societies.

Cultural Renaissance

Alongside infrastructural developments, there’s been a palpable rejuvenation of African arts, music, literature, and cinema. Stars like Lupita Nyong’o and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are leveraging their global platforms to bring attention back to Africa, advocating for an appreciation of its rich traditions and potential.

Economic Paradigms

Africa is now being seen not just as a beneficiary of aid but as an equal partner in global economic dynamics. Akon’s foray into cryptocurrency with the launch of “Akoin” in Senegal is a prime example. This venture further emphasizes his vision of an economically self-reliant Africa, leveraging modern technological tools.

In essence, Akon’s electrification project has been much more than a philanthropic endeavor. It has lit the way for a generation of African influencers, beckoning them back to their roots, not out of obligation but opportunity.

With every village that lights up, it’s not just the darkness that’s kept at bay but also the shadows of outdated narratives. Akon and his league of influencers are championing a new story for Africa, one that blends its rich legacy with a luminous vision for the future.

Akon: An Odyssey of Light and Empowerment was originally published in Helpful Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Scaling the Skies: Navigating the Highs and Lows of Urban Vertical Farming

Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

In the heart of bustling cities with desert horizons, where skyscrapers cast long shadows and space is a premium, a new silhouette is emerging — vertical farms. These towering havens of greenery promise fresh produce even in the densest urban centers. Yet, with their rise come challenges: space constraints, soaring energy demands, hefty initial investments, and intricate upkeep. However, as innovators are proving, every problem has a solution. Let’s traverse the stacked aisles of urban vertical farming.

Tilling the Concrete Jungle

The dream is seductive: converting urban spaces into productivity hubs, reducing food miles, and offering city dwellers a literal taste of the farm. However, dreams often grapple with reality:

Space Constraints: While vertical farming minimizes horizontal space use, urban centers, especially in desert countries, offer limited space due to high property values.

Energy Appetite: Traditional farming thrives on sunlight. Vertical farms, however, often rely heavily on energy-intensive artificial lighting, especially in regions with prolonged hot and sun-scarce periods.

Capital Challenges: Setting up a vertical farm isn’t cheap. From specialized lighting to hydroponic systems, the initial costs can be daunting.

Maintenance Maze: These farms aren’t just about sowing and reaping; they’re complex systems requiring consistent monitoring and adjustments.

Innovating Upwards: Modular & Energy-Efficient Solutions

What if the challenges of space and energy could be turned into strengths?

Modular Systems: Think of them as Lego blocks for farmers. Customizable, expandable, and versatile, they can be fitted into various urban spaces, from rooftops to balconies to abandoned warehouses.

Tapping Renewable Energy: Solar panels or wind turbines can be integrated to harness natural energy. In sun-rich desert countries, this could counterbalance energy consumption.

Optimized Lighting: Advanced LED lights, tailored to emit specific wavelengths, can promote faster plant growth with less energy.

Smart Systems: Automated sensors and AI-driven analytics can reduce the need for constant human monitoring, optimizing conditions for plant growth while conserving resources.

Case Study: The Oasis Towers of Dubai

Dubai, with its sprawling skyscrapers and desert backdrop, epitomizes space and environmental challenges. Enter the Oasis Towers: a series of vertical farms powered entirely by solar panels, taking modularity to new heights. Designed as self-sufficient units, each module can be tailored to specific crops. The result? A 70% reduction in water usage and a significant drop in energy costs, producing yields comparable to larger traditional farms.

Cost-Effective and User-Friendly: Democratizing Vertical Farming

High-tech farming solutions can seem out of reach for small-scale urban farmers and community gardens. Yet, the future holds promise:

Shared Farming Spaces: Think co-working spaces, but for farmers. Shared facilities can spread out the costs, making the technology accessible to many.

Training and Support: Local governments and NGOs can offer training sessions, ensuring farmers reap the most from these systems.

Local Manufacturing: Producing components locally, especially in warm or desert countries, can reduce costs.

Simplified Systems for Community Gardens: Stripping down advanced systems to their essentials can provide community gardens with affordable vertical farming solutions.

Case Study: Lima’s Urban Green Revolution

Lima, with its warm climate, has seen community gardens sprout throughout the city. Faced with space constraints, locals innovated with cost-effective vertical solutions. Using locally sourced materials, combined with basic hydroponic systems and shared LED setups, yields have flourished. These community-driven initiatives not only feed neighbourhoods but also foster community ties and engagement.


Vertical farming, with its verdant towers and digital dashboards, offers more than just fresh produce; it paints a vision of a sustainable, resilient urban future. Warm and desert countries, often at the frontlines of climate change, stand to gain immensely from this agricultural renaissance.

Yet, the transition demands more than just technology; it requires a blend of innovation, community engagement, and a dash of audacity. As city skylines evolve, integrating green into the gray, vertical farming stands not as a mere trend but as a testament to human ingenuity in the face of challenges. From Lima’s community gardens to Dubai’s Oasis Towers, the future of farming is not just on the horizon, but reaching for the skies.

Scaling the Skies: Navigating the Highs and Lows of Urban Vertical Farming was originally published in Helpful Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.