Ventilators are desperately needed to fight the coronavirus, particularly since this respiratory infection makes it so hard for many patients stricken with it to breathe at all. While some use the term “breathing machine,” a ventilator is a medical device that can take breaths on behalf of patients who can’t breathe for themselves thanks to COVID-19. A massive ventilator shortage has devastated the ability of hospitals around the world to respond to COVID-19 in a timely and effective manner, but new innovations could be helping medical professionals power the ventilators they need to keep patients alive.
Here’s how companies like Raspberry Pi and others are innovating to provide for the ventilators that coronavirus patients desperately need.
One of the biggest reasons that medical equipment needed to fight the coronavirus has been in short supply is that some of it is extraordinarily complex to make. Some medical devices require computer chips to operate, for instance, and a lack of companies capable of churning out the computer chips has resulted in an inability to ramp up ventilator production. That could be changing, however, as certain companies like Raspberry Pi are stepping up to the plate to power ventilators in new and innovative ways.
According to a report from Engadget, the incredibly affordable computer boards created by Raspberry Pi are ideal for ventilators because production can be ramped up quickly and cheaply. A major lobbying group representing major U.S. semiconductor companies has already petitioned for the right to remain open amidst COVID-19 business closures for a related reason; semiconductor companies argue that the electronic products they create are essential for many medical devices that the coronavirus has led to a shortage of.
COVID-19 has challenged many businesses, forcing many of them to fire huge swathes of employees or hire intellectual property attorneys to navigate these legally confusing times. Some companies are standing up to the challenge, though, and Raspberry Pi has already claimed to have shipped approximately 1.75 million Pi units in the first quarter of 2020. Other innovators are stepping forward to provide interesting new ventilator designs that can be mass-produced in a quick and affordable fashion, too.
A news report from MIT illustrates that researchers there have come up with an innovative response to COVID-19 in the form of an open-source, low-cost ventilator that will be made accessible to as many people as possible. Some ventilators can cost up to $30,000 each, but the team at MIT believes that its new design could cost a few hundred dollars at most.
Another reason that there is a shortage of ventilators and other critical medical equipment around the world is that global competition for these items is heating up. Countries are actively bidding against one another in an effort to secure contracts from private companies pledging to produce a certain amount of medical equipment. In certain areas, such as the United States, local state governments are even finding themselves facing off against the federal government in a bidding war that’s caused domestic confusion and political finger-pointing.
According to one extensive report from the Washington Post, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and the American Medical Association have called upon the federal government to exercise emergency powers to procure equipment like ventilators. Around the world, competition between countries is leading to some geopolitical disputes, with the United States and Germany having already gotten into a minor diplomatic spat over a bidding war for protective medical equipment. Tech companies like Raspberry Pi, by providing the delicate computing parts needed to ensure complex ventilators and other equipment function properly, are helping local authorities get around this national and international competition.
According to the analytics company GlobalData, the United States alone will require approximately 880,000 ventilators to cope with the continued spread of COVID-19, though that is but one analysis. The true extent to which ventilators will be needed around the world remains unknown, though one report from the Imperial College London estimates that approximately 30 percent of people who get COVID-19 end up needing a ventilator. Medical experts, tech innovators, and political authorities continue to work to ensure ventilators are being sent to where they’re needed most.