MINNEAPOLIS — COVID-19, meet the University of Minnesota’s Coventor.
The design came together overnight, and took 30 days to perfect: a portable desktop ventilator that costs $1,000 or less to manufacture and can function with or without access to compressed air.
On Wednesday morning, April 15, the Federal Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to the Coventor, which is intended to be a relatively low-cost back-up for hospitals and nursing homes if they run out of professional-grade ventilators.
The open-source design calls for a robot arm that manually squeezes a medical bag, imitating a patient’s lung.
"The best case scenario would be that we don’t actually need this device, but if we do, that’s why we wanted to build it," said Aaron Tucker, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at the U of M.
Working with three other doctoral students, student volunteers and a medical doctor while taking pains to maintain social distancing, Tucker spent 30 days creating five different prototypes for the Coventor and running the more advanced models through six different tests.
"The design is very simple," Tucker said. "It’s just a one-armed robot. But the timeline was very difficult."
The design has now been shipped to Boston Scientific, which plans to manufacture 3,000 models out of its Maple Grove factory and sell them at-cost for about $1,000 a piece, a fraction of the market cost for a professional-grade ventilator.
The U of M has made the design available to manufacturers open source, meaning any company across the globe with means can produce the Coventor.
Testing for the Coventor was funded by Rapid Response Grants from the U of M’s Office of Academic Clinical Affairs and drew expertise from the U’s Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center, the College for Science and Engineering and the medical school, as well as Medtronic and other companies.
The challenge with traditional ventilators is it can take weeks for manufacturers to source different components and prep assembly lines for a somewhat complex product.
The Coventor concept was thought up by University of Minnesota Anesthesiology fellow Dr. Steve Richardson, who ran the idea by friends in the biomedical engineering industry one morning after a late-night epiphany.
"Just as quickly as (the idea) came, it went. I went to sleep, woke up and was about to hop on an exercise bike and said, ‘let me make a phone call,'" Richardson said.
Seven hours later, after stripping down a machine, they had a prototype.
"Everybody made this happen," Richardson said. "A pediatric surgeon here likes to say, when you’re in trouble, load the boat. And that’s what we did."