Makers Join the War on COVID-19

April 7, 2020 Jeremy S. Cook

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve heard of COVID-19, a deadly virus that is still spreading rapidly worldwide. Many experience mild effects to this disease, but others become critically ill to the point where they need radical medical intervention, such as the use of a ventilator.

The good news is that there are countermeasures in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE), and simply staying home. In the long term we can hopefully find more effective treatments. For now, though, there’s a shortage of supplies like gloves, masks, and even ventilators. Computing power could even be put to use for research purposes. Factories understandably take some time to ramp up to these challenges, but with the proliferation of advanced home manufacturing equipment and computing power, there’s no shortage of ideas on how individuals can help.

Shields Up

Image Credit: Ali (Potent Printables)

The first line of defense against COVID-19 is, of course, not getting it at all. For many this means staying at home, but for doctors, nurses, hospital support staff, and other critical industries, this is simply not an option. Since PPE supplies are stretched to the limit, many have been stepping in to fill this gap with DIY face shields.

While there are many ways to make such a device, two that seem especially well suited for the job are this design by Prusa Research, and a second model by Design That Matters. The ingenious thing about both of these designs is that they can accommodate a standard US transparency cover, and holes for attachment are made with a readily available tipple hole punch.

The Prusa design is somewhat simpler and faster to print and includes a reinforcing piece for the bottom of the shield, which can be added to either. The ‘Design That Matters’ shield is actually derived from a Prusa shield, but includes an angled upper augmentation, and is, importantly, approved by the National Institute of Health. The downside, of course, is that it would take longer to print and needs more material.

Either way, there are hospitals and other organizations that are more than happy to have them, and a quick web search or phone call or two should help you get them to the right place.

Emergency Ventilators

Image Credit: AmboVent

Because of the onrush of COVID-19 patients, ventilators are in short supply in some areas and may soon be in others. This is a trickier situation than face shields, as these are complicated pieces of equipment, that very directly affects someone’s ability to breathe. In normal times, building such DIY medical devices would be tragically irresponsible. Faced with shortages, however, not trying every possibility would be equally tragic.

There are a number of designs and proposals floating around, from a way to convert a CPAP machine for this use, to others that intermittently depress and relieve a bag valve mask (BVM). One such BVM design of note is AmboVent, which, while not officially approved for medical use, looks quite refined. It can be made from off-the-shelf parts, including an Arduino Nano, for around $500. Documentation on the project, with design files are available on GitHub.

Folding for a Cure

Image Credit: Jeremy S. Cook - Screencapture

While you may have never considered it, generating effective treatments for a disease can involve a massive amount of computing power. While one supercomputer would be good, the Folding@Home (F@H) project distributes problems over a wide network of computers, making it, according to Wikipedia, the first exaFLOP computing system (capable of a billion operations per second) as of March 25th, 2020.

As for what F@H does for the medical community, Hackaday Editor in Chief Mike Szczys puts it this way:

Folding@Home (FAH) is an initiative that simulates proteins associated with several diseases, searching for indicators that will help medical researchers identify treatments. These are complex problems and your efforts right now are incredibly important to finding treatments faster. FAH loads the research pipeline, generating a data set that researchers can then follow in every step of the process, from identifying which chemical compounds may be effective and how to deliver them, to testing they hypothesis and moving toward human trials.

Put a different way, it lets medical research scientists get answers at a speed that would have been unimaginable a short time ago. You can get involved via their website, with a quick install on several OS flavors. I’m personally involved in Team: ElectronicsTwitter. Anyone is welcome to join with the number 239321, though looking at my ranking there I really need to step up my game. Incidentally, the team aspect is actually pretty fun, so it was good thinking on F@H’s part!

About the Author

Jeremy S. Cook is a freelance tech journalist and engineering consultant with over 10 years of factory automation experience. An avid maker and experimenter, you can follow him on Twitter [https://twitter.com/JeremySCook], or see his electromechanical exploits on the Jeremy S. Cook YouTube Channel! [https://www.youtube.com/c/jeremyscook]

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