This Coronavirus Ventilator Runs on Raspberry Pi, but Must Pass Tests in Colombia Before Use

A new medical ventilator run with Raspberry Pi computer was recently posted online as open source, but will have to pass several tests before it can help coronavirus patients in dire straits.
Brad Bergan
Image formatted to fit. @Mascobot / Twitter

A team of engineers in Colombia will test a ventilator made using a Raspberry Pi computer and common parts, reports the BBC.


Raspberry Pi Coronvirus Ventilator

The new ventilator's design and computer code were posted online in March by a man with no previous experience in developing medical equipment.

A robotics engineer, Marco Mascorro said he designed and built the ventilator because he understood the high demand for the machines amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a tweet, Mascorro noted that he was "glad to see @elonmusk & #Tesla working on" ventilators as well, and encouraged them to use his design, if it helped.

However, Mascorro's post triggered an avalanche of feedback from healthcare workers, which the man has used to add improvements to the machine.

"I am a true believer that technology can solve a lot of the problems we have right now specifically in this pandemic," said Mascorro to the BBC.

The Colombian team added that the design was critical for the well-being of their South American county because requisite parts for traditional models were not easy to acquire.

Mascorro's design, on the other hand, only uses common and accessible parts — for example, it uses valves anyone can find in a neighborhood plumbing supply store.

The machine itself is due for a fast-tracked round of tests in two Bogota institutions — Los Andres University and the University Hospital of the Pontifical Xavierian University.

"The fight against Covid-19 (sic) is like a race," said Omar Ramirez, leader of the project, to the BBC.

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"All the world is competing against the disease, but on different tracks and what determines those different tracks is the access to resources and experience."

Computing Power of Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is essential to the easily-sourced ventilator.

An invention from the U.K., the Raspberry Pi is a small, nonexpensive computer board that was initially made to help teach computer coding. But in the last eight years, it was increasingly embraced by programming enthusiasts to become the brains of a broad scope of electronics projects.

Computer control of the ventilator is crucial. It sets the correct air pressure, closes and opens valves, and regulates a patient's need for partial or full breathing assistance.

Mascorro has listed his code as open-source, which means that literally anyone can use and modify it, absolutely free of charge.

"The beauty of developing a software centric system is we can make changes to the processes without doing much to the hardware," said Mascorro to the BBC.

The ventilator equipment will run continuously for five days as a set of artificial lungs, as part of its tests. If the novel Raspberry Pi machine passes them all, the next step will be animal trials. If these go smoothly, the Colombian team hopes to begin human trials early in May.

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