UF researchers design low-cost DIY ventilator

With parts available at Lowes and Home Depot, using open-source software, skilled volunteers may be able to help bridge the gap in life-saving technology against the coronavirus.

University of Florida mechanical engineering student decades ago, Samsun Lampotang helped respiratory therapist colleagues build a minimal-transport ventilator that became a commercial success.

So, when the coronavirus pandemic hit and he heard the desperate international plea for thousands more ventilators, the longtime UF professor of anesthesiology set out to build a prototype using plentiful, cheap components that could be copied from an online diagram and a software repository.

Lampotang dispatched David Lizdas, the lead engineer in his lab, to Home Depot to gather items such as air-tight PVC water pipes and lawn-sprinkler valves. Along with engineering and medical colleagues at UF and — through a burgeoning open-source network — places as far-flung as Canada, India, Ireland, Vietnam and Brazil, they raced to “MacGyver” these items and other pieces, including a microcontroller board and a ham radio DC power supply, into an open-source ventilator they expect to make publicly available in a matter of days.

“The way I looked at it is, if you’re going to run out of ventilators, then we’re not even trying to reproduce the sophisticated ventilators out there,” said Lampotang, the Joachim S. Gravenstein Professor of Anesthesiology in the UF College of Medicine, part of UF Health, and the director of UF’s Center for Safety, Simulation & Advanced Learning Technologies, or CSSALT.

“If we run out, you have to decide who gets one and who doesn’t. How do you decide that? The power of our approach is that every well-intentioned volunteer who has access to Home Depot, Ace or Lowe’s or their equivalent worldwide can build one.”

The ventilator’s valves will precisely time the flow of compressed oxygen into a patient with lungs weakened by viral pneumonia in order to extend life and allow time for the body to clear the infection.

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