The Pandemic Demands Modularizing the Open Source Ventilator Problem

The Corovamp abstract ventilator model.


In just the last four weeks, thousands of engineers have self-organized around the problem of designing, testing, manufacturing and deploying ventilators to address a present and possibly worsening shortfall of mechanical ventilators required by the unusually virulent and transmissive COVID-19 pandemic.

A Huge Community

But since then many organizations have been established or refocused: HelpfulEngineering (at least 16,000 people) and (4,400 people), DIY Ventilators, Pak Innovation Club, Ventilator Crowd ,#industryvirus, 1 million Ventilators Project, 1M Ventilators, Global Ventilator & PPE DIY Collaboration, #EngineersAssemble, The Ventilator Project, and the Ventilators Collaboration Network, are the ones we know of. (We are probably unintentionally more aware of English-language projects.) These organization are world-wide and often international in their focus. Please report additional ones to us at our open source list of ventilators projects and resources.


They would do what engineers do: break the problem into smaller pieces. They would in fact, modularize the problem, and let different teams work on different pieces in parallel to shorten the time to first life saved. Nine women cannot make a baby in one month; but 20,000 engineers may be able to save lives quickly, if they do not compete or pull in separate directions.

A Model of All Ventilators

Ventilators must deliver air in a precisely controlled manner. However, they are fundamentally simple. For example, they are far simpler than an internal combustion engine. In fact, we have started an open-source project called COROVAMP (COROnaVirus Abstract Physical Model). It is at the moment just a diagram:

COROVAMP Abstract Physical Model

Testing, Monitoring and Alarming

The key to deploying pandemic ventilators is testing. But the act of testing is closely related to the monitoring which we have all seen in movies: the machine gives feedback to the clinicians. In this case, that feedback is about pressure, volume, respiration rate, and a few other things.

VentMon will plug into the airway of ANY ventilator to provide (possibly redundant) monitoring and alarming.

Control Panel

Most ventilators have a physical control panel and status display. The AmboVent has a simple one that should be easy for any experienced clinician to use:

The AmboVent has a straight-foward control panel

A Data Standard

The internet runs on standards, although users don’t have to know that. In order for a Universal Pandemic Ventilator Controller to be a module that works with different ventilators, there must be a standard for how it communicates with other components. Some of what must be standardized is the respiratory data itself: the pressure, flow, temperature and O2 measurements taken by the machine that are clinically important. In an attempt to cooperate with Prof. Bennett’s team, we began such a standard Sunday night: Public Invention Respiratory Data Standard (PIRDS) (v0.1). It is of course, not very good yet, but it is open-source: you can take it and improve it, and hopefully, give your improvements back to us.

The Drive Mechanism

Every ventilator has a source of air. Many squeeze an AmbuBag. This has the advantage that the volume is easy to control. It may or may not have the drawback that the bag doesn’t last 14 days through the course of the illness; we will see. Perhaps a fan is better; perhaps a pump. The Brazilian OpenVentilator uses a bellows, which can be manufactured anywhere.


Possibly a humidifier, an oxygen mixer, and an exhalation sanitizer should be modules. The modularization itself should be an open source project that 20,000 engineers can review and possibly extend and improve.

Supply Chain Resilience

If we are to save lives on a large scale, we must plan for manufacturing at a large scale. The meaning of “large scale” may vary depending on your nation and region. But every effort, including those undertaken by Dyson, Tesla, Ford and GM must be concerned with a breakdown in the supply chain of parts and components. This may be caused by the pandemic itself or the economic or political disruption it causes.

Transparency and Openness

There are projects, possibly very good projects, that are not open right now. They are in no way benefiting the community, and they are in no way leveraging the community. I believe policy makers should be skeptical and mistrustful of every pandemic ventilator project, but they should be doubly skeptical of any project that is not a transparent open source project. A closed system forces them to rely on the authority and reputation of its makers rather than the evaluation of a community. We have proposed a distributed process by which confidence can be built by having different teams build and test open designs:

The pandemic demands transparency and openness.

(Public Invention is a US 501(c)3 public charity.)



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Robert L. Read

Robert L. Read


Public Inventor. Founder of Public Invention. Co-founder of @18F. Presidential Innovation Fellow. Agilist. PhD Comp. Sci. Amateur mathematician.