This week, NVIDIA Chief Scientist Bill Dally released an open-source design for a low-cost, easy-to-assemble ventilator that he believes could be used to treat patients with COVID-19. Dally developed the ventilator in just a few weeks. He designed it around two readily available components: a proportional solenoid valve and a microcontroller, and he says it can be made for just a few hundred dollars.
“Our philosophy is to build the simplest possible ventilator that could be produced rapidly and inexpensively, but yet meet the needs of treating patients with COVID-19,” Dally said in a video, explaining that the device is able to precisely meter the flow and pressure of the air being delivered.
The ventilator can be assembled in just minutes, attached to a simple display and packed into a Pelican carrying case. Dally built the prototype using off-the-shelf components for about $400. Produced in quantity, it could cost less than $300, and using open-sourced, 3D-printed parts, the price might drop below $100, he says. According to a NVIDIA blog post, traditional ventilators can cost more than $20,000.
The ventilator has been tested successfully on a lung simulator, and Dally is now in the process of applying for an emergency use authorization from the FDA. That’s the same fast-tracked approval that NASA recently received for its ventilator design. If Dally’s device is approved, the next step will be finding a way to manufacture it, which as other companies have found, is a significant challenge.
“I hope that we do not get so many people sick that we run out of ventilators,” Dally told NVIDIA. “But I want to make sure that if we do, something like this is ready.”
Several other companies have been looking for ways to develop new ventilators or extend the use of the current supply. We’ve seen potential designs from gaming PC maker Maingear and Tesla. Dyson was initially preparing to manufacture 15,000 ventilators, but it recently scrapped plans saying the devices are “not required.”
Dally, also a professor at Stanford University, collaborated with university colleagues and former students. Another team from Stanford recently produced reusable face masks made with repurposed scuba gear and designed to help front-line workers during the pandemic. As this crisis continues, we will likely see more tech companies and universities stepping up to help in whatever ways they can.