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A team of scientists and engineers from the Design Factory of Riga Technical University (RTU) has created a prototype for an automated lung fan that is simple enough in production and easy to use, in order to help patients with breathing problems caused by Covid-19 efficiently. Cooperation with a number of companies to start production is already under way.
The Covid-19 crisis in Italy shows the vital need for technical equipment in medical institutions to combat the new disease and the consequences caused by a lack of such equipment. Cheap alternatives of artificial breathing machines are being sought for worldwide; their current production capacity is insufficient, resulting in their shortage in countries particularly affected by Covid-19. Still, according to Guntis Kuļikovskis, researcher of the Research Laboratory of Functional Materials Technologies at RTU Faculty of Material Science and Applied Chemistry, there have been no functioning solutions developed yet. The Latvian team of scientists, engineers and experts has succeeded in creating a working automated lung fan prototype in the first virtual HackForce hackathon. Following consultations with anaesthesiologists and reanimatologists, it will be further improved by creating a more functional and user-friendly device by developing a user interface. Cooperation with a number of companies to start production is already under way. The possibility for Latvian manufacturers to quickly purchase components and start production without facing bureaucratic barriers that will expose this medical device to a long registration process is also being identified.
The automated lung-venting device is based on a manual respiratory balloon used by emergency medical professionals. Its minus is that it is operated manually, which means that each patient needs a medical worker to apply artificial breathing to. In a crisis situation, such care will not be available, therefore a robotic analogue has been created, with compression motors and sensors, that provides oxygen supply according to the patient's lung volume, controlling the rate of oxygen flow, the frequency of inhales and exhalations, the amount of carbon dioxide in the exhalation, etc.
The prototype of the medical device has been deliberately designed as relatively simple, so that it can be produced as quickly as possible. “Our aim was not to create an alternative to the solutions available on the market, but a simplified and simultaneously functional model that helps medical professionals save lives,” emphasises G. Kuļikovskis. He expresses respect to medical professionals, rescue workers, drivers, salespeople and other specialists who continue to work in an emergency situation. The researcher also acknowledges that it was not easy to get out of home to create a prototype jointly with the team, but they were driven by the sense of mission that by contributing their knowledge and expertise, it is possible to help creating a solution during the crisis.
The core of the hackathon team is formed by engineer Einārs Deksnis, who originated the idea of creating such a ventilator, and G. Kuļikovskis, with the help and advice from Dāvis Kūms, Margarita Matuļenko, Aivars Ritovs, Ilmārs Poikāns, Linda Lancere and Edgars Zvirgzdiņš.
The HackForce hackathon was organised efficiently by volunteers from the start-up environment, civic-active programmers, designers and big companies to develop ideas and fast-track solutions to mitigate the coronavirus crisis. The hackathon was supported by state institutions, which, along with the companies, provided an award fund allowing to continue development of ideas. There were 28 teams actively operating in the hackathon and a total of 800 people from 25 different countries around the world were involved in the project. The best acknowledged idea is recognised to be 3D printing of facial masks (also this team worked with the participation of a representative from the RTU Design Factory Sofija Jēkabsone). Whereas, the robotic lung fan has won second place and a total of eight thousand euro award for developing the idea.
The design of the lung fan is created by the team, with the components manufactured and the device assembled at the RTU Design Factory, where, according to G. Kuļikovskis, the required equipment is available. The RTU Design Factory is an innovation and business platform with the best-equipped prototyping workshop in the Baltics, a team of highly qualified experts and scientific support for entrepreneurs, managers and students to create innovation ideas, high value-added products and engineering solutions.