Combating COVID-19 Conference: Arduino Community Initiative – Elektor


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On April 2, 2020 Arduino organized an online conference about open-source medical equipment and especially the equipment needed for fighting COVID-19 or the Coronavirus.

On April 2, 2020 Arduino organized an online conference about open source medical equipment and especially the equipment needed for fighting the COVID-19 or Coronavirus. After a generic introduction by Arduino co-founder David Cuartielles, the virtual stage was taken by Robert L. Read from Public Invention who introduced the subject of open-source ventilators and assisted ventilation to the Arduino community. He keeps a list of known projects on GitHub.

Ventilators Are Complex

As became quickly clear, ventilators are complex devices. Even though it seems technically not too difficult to pump air into the lungs of a patient, the airflow must be controlled very precisely to avoid damage to the lungs. It must follow a curve not dissimilar in shape to reflow oven heat curves or to the curves produced by envelope generators found in (analogue) synthesizers. Doing this with easily available parts is not easy while bag valve masks (‘Ambu bags’) may be hard to come by.

Arduino community members learn about ReaMima DIY ventilator
ReaMima DIY ventilator

Besides a precisely controlled air flow -- air pressure monitoring is another challenge -- a ventilator needs robust mechanical parts like tubes and filters, and, not the least, approval and certification from the medical world…

One of the most buildable projects is AmboVent that uses an Arduino Nano.

Two Tracks

The conference then split into two tracks. Track 1 continued on ventilators while Track 2 addressed other open source medical devices.

Track 1 - Arduino-Compatible Ventilators

On Track 1 short presentations were given by people from all over the world. Several addressed the problem of pumping air, and some quite ingenious solutions were shown. One that appealed to me, even though it didn’t seem to be the most viable solution, was the ReaMima as I have all the required parts at home. This project uses water to pump air. The Brazilian OpenVentilator project avoids the Ambu bag as air reservoirs as they are becoming hard to find.

Legal and Certification Challenges

The second part of Track 1, moderated by César García Sáez ( treated difficulties related to legal requirements for medical equipment. There are regulations, norms and standards for e.g. filtering and the quality of the air pumped by a ventilator. Furthermore, requirements may differ per region and country.

DIY coffee filter mask
Make a mask out of a coffee filter.

Bottom line is to involve medical staff as early in the project as possible. Of course, good documentation and manuals are required too. That equipment must be homologized (or does it?) and comply to CE, FCC and similar regulations goes without saying.

Track 2 - Other Arduino-Compatible Medical Devices 

Non-ventilator devices were the subject of Track 2 (moderated by Alessandro Ranellucci). Projects ranged from AI on edge devices (DeepC) to oxygen concentrators, and from oximeters to masks made from coffee filters or, more complex, with 3D printers.

The FHIReButton addressed the problem of resource management, for instance the availability of intensive-care units (ICUs) or beds. Resources are dispersed and finding an available ICU quickly can be a challenge. This IoT button signals the availability of a resource to an online platform simply by flipping a switch.

The FHIReButton helps managing dispersed medical resources.

Technology and Manufacturing Challenges

Track 2, now moderated by Dario Pennisi, continued with problems related to designing and then producing medical equipment. Besides the obvious things like robustness and safety requirements, one of the things to avoid is everybody using the same parts as this may quickly create logistics problems. Another thing that non-specialist medical developers should be aware of is that wireless technologies are not really appreciated in hospitals, and that every byte of data coming out of a medical instrument must be considered as sensitive data.

A Nice Oveview for the Arduino Community

All in all, more than 7 hours (3.5 hours per tracks) of interesting projects and ideas. Turn-key solutions did not come out of this, of course, but it was a very nice overview what people all over the world are trying to do to improve our lives, now to fight the Coronavirus, but also for the future.

Track 1 also aired live on YouTube and you can watch it here.

Track 2 is also on YouTube.


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