Prodrive and Cambridge University develop low-cost ventilator

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British motorsport and automotive technology business, Prodrive has worked with Cambridge University to develop a low-cost ventilator for global use. Named the OVSI (Open Ventilator System Initiative), the ventilator unit has been designed using components from outside the medical supply chain, so that it can be brought to market in less time and at lower cost than many other commercially available ventilators. In just five weeks, Prodrive has taken the original concept from Cambridge University’s Whittle Laboratory and turned it into a full working prototype ready for production.

Part of the reason for the project is concern about the spread of Covid-19 in Africa, with fewer than 2,000 working ventilators across the continent’s 41 countries, with 10 countries having none at all.

“Fulfilling the unique requirements of local clinicians was key to this project,” said Professor Axel Zeitler from Cambridge University’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, and OVSI team lead. “Clinicians told us the ventilator needed to cover the wide spectrum of patient ventilation requirements, and therefore work in three modes – non-invasive, mandatory or patient-triggered ventilation.”

A team of 20 Prodrive engineers has worked on the project seven days a week since early April at the company’s headquarters in Banbury, Oxfordshire. The team took the Whittle Laboratory’s initial concept and began rapidly evolving the design into parts that could be manufactured from medically appropriate materials in the high production volumes that would be required. Prodrive also designed the electronic and electrical system architecture and wrote completely new software to control the unit, with input from clinicians to ensure ease of use in an intensive care environment.

The first full working prototype was manufactured and assembled at Prodrive’s headquarters, and, using a calibrated artificial lung, a comprehensive test programme was run against the UK government’s RVMS (Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System) specification.

The OVSI team is productionising the concept design prior to volume manufacture, which will be led by two South African companies: Defy, a domestic appliance manufacturer, and Denel, a state-owned business.

Prodrive chairman, David Richards, said: “I am particularly proud of how our team, who had no previous medical experience, gave their time freely and brought this project to fruition in record time. It’s a true vindication of our strategy of applying a motorsport culture to complex technical challenges that require an innovative approach.”

The ventilator design will be released on an open-source licence by the University of Cambridge in due course. For more information on the OVSI please visit: www.ovsi.org.

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Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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