UCL News


Team behind life-saving breathing aid win prestigious engineering award

17 August 2020

UCL engineers and medics who developed a CPAP breathing aid now used in hospitals across the UK have received an award from the Royal Academy of Engineering for exceptional services during a pandemic.

Rebecca Shipley and a member of the HPP team fixing a mask on to a mannequin.

The team, including Professor Rebecca Shipley (UCL Healthcare Engineering) and Professor Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering), worked with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains and UCLH to reverse engineer a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device in record time, gaining regulatory approval in 10 days. The UCL-Ventura device is now helping patients in more than 60 hospitals across the UK.

In recognition of their efforts, the team behind the UCL-Ventura device have received the Royal Academy of Engineering’s President’s Special Award for Pandemic Services. The awards, given to 19 individuals and teams across the UK, honour exceptional engineering achievements in tackling Covid-19.

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost said: “This extraordinary team reverse-engineered, built, tested and obtained regulatory approval for these devices within 10 days, providing vital support to the NHS at a critical time. The UCL community is incredibly proud of their achievement.”

CPAP devices were used extensively in China and Italy to help Covid-19 patients breathe more easily, but the devices were in short supply in UK hospitals, so engineers at UCL and Mercedes-AMG HPP worked round-the-clock to reverse engineer and then improve the functioning of a device that could be manufactured rapidly by the thousands. The UK Government ordered 10,000 devices and the order was completed within 15 days, reaching over 60 NHS hospitals.

To contribute to the global humanitarian effort, the multidisciplinary project team released full design and manufacturing instructions at no cost. These blueprints have been downloaded by more than 1,900 organisations from 105 countries.

Teams have begun manufacture and hospital testing of devices in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, India, Iran, Mexico, Peru, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Russia, South Africa and the US and the UCL-Ventura team continues to provide technical, manufacturing and clinical support, working with UK Government teams.

Claire Burges Watson, Counsellor Political at the British High Commission in Nairobi, said: "I have been enormously impressed by the drive, commitment and selfless dedication of Rebecca Shipley and the UCL team in supporting the UK and so many countries in the developing world in seeking to cope with this devastating pandemic.

"Not only have she and the team been very proactive in trying to provide a practical solution for a critical problem facing these countries, but they have worked hard to provide objective advice on the pros and cons of the CPAP. This reflects very well on their humanitarian commitment and our country’s reputation."

Ross Brawn, Managing Director of Motorsports at Formula 1, said: "As well as the foresight to identify the probable need for less invasive ventilation support...the team at UCL did something about it and committed to a programme at a point of time when some may have considered it to be, at best, speculative, but we now know to have been visionary.

"Formula 1 has an extreme culture of engineering in terms of solutions and time scales, and the fit with the UCL team was perfect. The design and delivery of 10,000 CPAP devices by HPP was in a time scale considered impossible by normal references, 15 days from the confirmation of order."

Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest public health crisis of our time and has presented society with multiple challenges. Engineering expertise and innovation has been central to the global fight to save lives and protect livelihoods.

“I am also incredibly proud of engineers everywhere who have worked round the clock to maintain essential services, critical supply chains and infrastructure in unprecedented circumstances, using their training and skills to find innovative solutions to a host of problems and to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our daily lives.”

  • Full list of award recipients: Prof Rebecca Shipley (UCL Healthcare Engineering), Prof Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Prof David Lomas (School of Life and Medical Sciences), Prof Mervyn Singer (UCL Medicine and UCLH Critical Care), Dr Tom Peach (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Dr Tom Rushton (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Mr Peter Weston (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Dr David Brealey (UCL Medicine and UCLH Critical Care), Andy Cowell (Mercedes-AMG HPP), Ben Hodgkinson (Mercedes-AMG HPP), Pierre Godof (Mercedes-AMG HPP). 



  • Professor Rebecca Shipley, left, and a member of the HPP team putting a mask in place on a mannequin. Credit: Jude Palmer / Royal Academy of Engineering.

Media contact

Mark Greaves

Tel: +44 (0)7539 410 389

Email: m.greaves [at] ucl.ac.uk