The Cheapest Ventilator Ever Made

The “Vermontilator” is likely the simplest, and cheapest, ventilator ever made for mass production, costing only “a few hundred dollars per unit in parts and materials” according to Jason Bates, the lung expert who led the University of Vermont team that invented the device. A standard ventilator could cost in the area of twenty to thirty thousand dollars.

Much of the reason for the high price of a standard ventilator is that it is designed to be versatile, much like a Swiss Army knife, with numerous settings requiring complex electronics and many different parts. The Vermontilator, by contrast, has only one setting, “airway pressure release ventilation,” or APRV for short, which some doctors, like Bates, believe helps to prevent injury to the lungs of COVID-19 patients.


3D Printed PPE

To help combat global shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), some people with 3D printers have begun manufacturing PPE components at home. The movement has been spurred along by the release of free, open-source PPE design files online from companies like Prusa Research in the Czech Republic and schools like Rowan University.

There are, however, certain limitations on what PPE can be 3D printed. Significantly, it is not possible to 3D print the kinds of porous materials needed to filter air. As a result, 3D printed face masks and respirators rely on makeshift filter materials.

The Prusa Research face shield design file can be downloaded at, and Rowan University’s face mask can be found at

Before printing PPE at home, you should consult the FDA FAQ on 3E Printing of Medical Devices at, as well as the relevant information provided with the files. If you plan on printing PPE to donate to hospitals and other medical providers, you should contact them first to learn the necessary requirements.


The Robot Dog of the Present

Before the pandemic, you may have seen videos online featuring Boston Dynamics’ dog-shaped robot, “Spot,” demonstrating feats of agility and balance—or, infamously, being kicked and shoved by its creators. Today, Spot has been modified to help in the response to the pandemic, but we probably will not be seeing Spot run any time soon in Atlanta. According to Boston Dynamics’ webpage, Spot is being used to provide telemedicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Boston Dynamics is also developing additional medical applications for Spot during the pandemic, including checking patients’ vital signs and disinfecting indoor spaces.


Flying Backwards

The pandemic will doubtless change air travel forever, and one of the more innovative proposed changes has been backward-facing middle seats.

Currently, social distancing while flying is nearly impossible, and airlines are keeping middle seats empty on the few jets that are still flying.

Airplane design firms have sought to find ways of changing airplane seating to better comply with the imperative of social distancing while allowing the middle seat to remain occupied. The “Janus” design proposed by the Italian company Aviointeriors calls for the middle seat to face backwards and for all seats to be surrounded by plastic barriers to prevent the spread of the virus. Other proposed designs call only for plastic barriers between seats.

It should be noted that reversing the middle seat on hundreds, if not thousands, of passenger aircraft would likely be very expensive and may prove impractical for airlines.


The Long Arm of the Law

By now you may have seen images of a prototype “social distancing clamp” used by the police in India to arrest people suspected to have COVID-19. Resembling nothing so much as a comically oversized theme park gift shop toy, it is unclear how much use the prototype has actually seen despite news coverage. Nonetheless, many understandably find the idea of the device being used to arrest people concerning, with some on Twitter criticizing it as dehumanizing.

The pandemic has forced changes in policing throughout the world and the social distancing clamp is only the tip of the iceberg. In Tunisia, police are using a drone resembling a miniature tank to question people out in public.


The Humble Cotton Face Mask

It is often the simplest technologies that have the greatest impact on daily life, and this is certainly true of the cotton face mask, which has become a mandatory household item and a passport for entering public spaces. While the cotton face mask offers limited personal protection against the virus, it does a good job of protecting others by catching droplets of saliva or mucus when we speak, cough, or sneeze.

That said, cotton face masks can be modified to become more effective for protecting one’s self. Scientists have found that using thicker materials, multiple layers of fabric, and nylon stockings to ensure a tight seal can substantially improve the effectiveness of homemade facemasks, according to NPR.

For those looking to make cotton face masks at home, CDC guidelines can be found here:

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