In Boston, two robotic entrepreneurs have paused their work to lend a hand in the immediate global health crisis. It is quickly becoming clear that COVID-19 is extremely serious. People are getting sick at an alarming rate and the US healthcare system is not ready; the world is not ready.
As patients flood into hospitals, medical supplies are dwindling. Early reports from New York and Seattle show both cities are experiencing intensive care bed shortages and looming ventilator shortages.
Ventilators, or mechanical breathing machines, are a crucial lifesaving tool that oxygenates a patient’s blood when their lungs are unable to because they are full of fluid. In one of the first large scale studies from Wuhan, the New England Journal of Medicine recorded that about 2.3% of COVID-19 patients will require these machines to stay alive.
A recent report from the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins highlighted that there were about 160,000 ventilators available for patient care. Current estimates from an Imperial College London report show that if we continue on our current trajectory, US demand for ventilators would be 30 times current supply. If mitigation efforts slow the disease, demand is still likely to grow above eight times current supply.
Alex Frost and Tyler Mantel, both entrepreneurs with startups in MassRobotics in Boston, co-founded a non-profit called The Ventilator Project in an effort to help the world breath in this time of crisis. They have quickly recruited a team of over 15 engineers to come together and rapidly prototype a low cost ventilator for global distribution. The team may grow to over 100 by next weeks time.
“We have certain skills that some people don’t have which allows us to come together as a team and help solve this shortage rapidly before things get out of hand” says Tyler. He went on, “There are two key problems that we really need to solve: affordable ventilator production and fast ventilator distribution.”
Major ventilator manufacturers are struggling to manufacture enough ventilators. Hospitals are struggling to put together enough capital to buy the ventilators they need. “We don’t have a year to wait for big companies to make another 100,000-300,000 ventilators. People need them yesterday, especially in Italy,” said Alex.
Tyler continued, “We are developing a ventilator specifically designed to meet the needs of a coronavirus patient. Think of it as a stripped down, bare bones, version of what major companies produce. We are shooting to be able to sell our ventilators for around $1,000-$2,000, a fraction of what major ventilators cost, $35,000-$50,000.” Once completed and approved by the FDA (under the Emergency Approval Process), we will be working with strategic partners to get our machines manufactured and distributed.
“If there is anything I ever do in my career, I think this will have the most meaning in terms of the ability to save people’s lives,” said Alex. The importance of this mission is apparent by how many people have come forward to help.
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