When the novel coronavirus hit, Samsun “Sem” Lampotang, Ph.D., the director of the UF Center for Safety, Simulation and Advanced Learning Technologies, knew ventilators would be essential in combating the effects of the deadly disease. While UF Health had a sufficient number of these machines, Lampotang knew these devices were scarce in other areas. He and his team had an idea: Let’s design and build an inexpensive but reliable prototype ventilator out of readily available materials.
David Lizdas, Ph.D., the lead engineer in Lampotang’s lab, went to Home Depot to gather a few items not usually seen in their work space, including lawn-sprinkler valves and PVC pipes. Gordon Gibby, M.D., a recently retired associate professor of anesthesiology at UF, joined the team, bringing with him his network of ham radio operators and providing critical assistance. Patrick Tighe, M.D., an associate professor of anesthesiology in the UF College of Medicine, prodded Lampotang to act on his idea.
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, Lampotang’s team raced to “MacGyver” these items and other pieces into an open-source ventilator that was made public within days.
“The way I looked at it is, 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 and a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. “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 device will not be patented, and the plans and software are freely available online. His team is adding safety features to meet regulatory guidelines and are running engineering tests for safety, accuracy and the endurance of the machine, which can be built for $250 or less and includes a ham radio DC power supply and microcontroller board.
With the support of a worldwide network of coders, engineers, ham radio operators and physicians, Lampotang’s team is moving toward securing Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a fixed-design prototype based on UF’s open-source design, for use in hospitals when other ventilator options have been exhausted.
The hope, of course, is that no one will ever need the ventilator during the pandemic. But even then, the team’s efforts won’t be for naught.
“When all this comes to pass and the world settles down,” Lampotang said, “we hope it will be repurposed for use in underdeveloped countries, so they can build a safe and inexpensive ventilator for themselves.”