UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


UCL ‘Design & Refine’ Sprint for low-cost ventilators

2 April 2020

On 19-20 March we hosted an online Design Sprint which allowed scientists, engineers, clinicians and industry experts to collaborate to find solutions to the UK's ventilator shortage.


As countries around the world grapple with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, hospitals face a shortage of ventilators to treat the number of people projected to experience respiratory problems. 

Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS needs ventilators and "anybody who can should turn production and their engineering minds to the production of ventilators”.

Teaming up with the Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub, Frontier Technologies Hub (which is funded through the Department for International Development) and Brink, the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering arranged a two-day ‘design and refine’ sprint focused on meeting this need. 

This activity fed into a funding call by Frontier Technologies Hub and Brink which closed on Tuesday 24 March. They were looking for existing, proven technology that can be rapidly adapted to be built in the UK and also used in the Department for International Development’s 27 countries of operation. The need for ventilators is not unique to the UK.

Adapting designs that are already certified for use in low-resource settings (as opposed to inventing from scratch) could allow for a swifter response – at a time when acting quickly is crucial. Such designs may also have additional benefits of portability, accessibility and affordability. 

Engineers, manufacturers, clinicians and intensive care technicians with relevant experience were invited to take part in the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering design and refine sprint via Microsoft Teams. The objective was to explore how working designs and prototypes for low-cost ventilators could be adapted to work in other settings, such as treating Covid-19 patients in an NHS environment.

It was excellent to see the speed and range of people who responded to the call-out through email and social media. The sprint began at 12pm on Thursday and by the end of Friday had more than 50 participants from institutions across the UK and further afield. A core team is continuing to work on ideas that emerged from the sprint, assisted by Dr Tim Adlam from the Global Disability Innovation Hub and other UCL colleagues. 

Brink and Frontier Technologies Hub are have been working to accelerate and refine teams' ideas further. Successful teams will receive support to establish a licence agreement with a UK manufacturer for a minimum of 1000 ventilators. They will also receive a fee per ventilator or spare parts for the ventilator depending on the complexity of the manufacturing process and locally-available materials. The funders’ aim is to make the final design open-source, so other nations can benefit from the technology.

We are enormously thankful to everyone who expressed an interest in joining the design sprint and contributed their time to approaching this challenge.