COVID-19 News

WBI sprints into action to address COVID ventilator shortage

Finding an inexpensive solution to the COVID-19 ventilator shortage is a marathon of a challenge, but the Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) and collaborators started it with a Sprint.

As COVID-19 spread and the demand for ventilators began to outpace the supply, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) reached out to WBI to explore concepts for quickly producing inexpensive (~$300) ventilators. OSD was aware of promising concepts from three entities: Rice University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Assessment and Training Solutions Consulting Corporation (ATSCC).

WBI saw the request as an opportunity to expand its contribution to the cause of providing ventilators to those in need and arranged a Sprint (a week of intensive focus on a challenge) that would verify the projected shortage numbers, identify which U.S. companies held ventilator-related patents, and explore innovative ideas for quickly producing the needed equipment.

WBI secured Subject Matter Experts from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to participate in the Sprint and, for the first time, made it a virtual event to protect everyone’s health. The goal of this Sprint was to find innovative, workable concepts, with pathways into Air Force acquisition channels that could fast-track ventilators to medical professionals.

On March 23, 2020, the Sprint participants gathered online and began to define the issue and brainstorm solutions. Courses of action included scaling up existing manufacturing; modifying medical equipment such as C-PAP machines and bag ventilators such as those used by first responders; modifying commercial off-the-shelf equipment such as scuba gear; designing a do-it-yourself 3D printed version; and some sort of “Apollo 13” approach, cobbling together available, existing materials.

The team was able to pin down requirements for approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and looked at the extent to which that approval would be necessary given the urgent nature of the crisis. (It is, but emergency waivers of some requirements are on the table.)

The Sprint concluded with several white papers distributed to various military networks. These white papers will provide additional testing, prototyping and supply chain insights for other Department of Defense efforts, including the recent Defense Health Agency (DHA) “Hack-A-Vent” Challenge.

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