The State of Open Source Ventilator Projects as of March 21st

Diagram of various test steps for Open Source Ventilators

At this moment…

There are thousands of intelligent, diligent, well-meaning engineers trying to help the design of open source ventilators to address a possibly imminent life-threatening shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This wealth of creative technical energy is currently disorganized, scattered, and unfocused. Rather than being a tremendous force for saving lives that it may become, energy and time is currently being wasted on oversimplifications of the problem and the belief that the projects are closer to deployable than they really are.

There are Few Open Projects Ready for Volunteers

Right now there are four projects better defined than others:

The Complexity of the Problem is Underestimated

At least some engineers seem to have undertaken or thought about undertaking projects without sufficient understanding of the problem. We consider the four links below essential reading. They are about 50 pages in all, and should take at most two hours to read:

Weighing The Risk

That extreme risk and life-critical nature makes DIY, open source ventilator designs a solution of last resort. Let us emphasize that: LAST RESORT. When an open source ventilator is needed, if it is not fully tested, reliable, and easy-to-use by a clinician wearing personal protective equipment, we risk costing lives rather than saving them.

How to Help

But the last resort may come upon us, so we are supporting the design, testing, and manufacture of open source ventilators. We have slowly learned how difficult this task will be, and what a challenge it will be to do quickly. But it is worth doing, and it may need your help.

  1. Please see the University of Cambridge’s recommendations.
  1. Do your homework.
  2. Offer to help an existing project.
  3. Focus on testing and reliability.
  1. Do your homework.
  2. If you build something, publish the design fully with open licenses, even as you are developing it. If there is no published design, it is useless to the community.
  3. Plan to have others build your design as a test of your design documentation.
  4. Think in terms of manufacturing units on at the scale of hundreds or thousands or more. Assume that others will assist you financially in this if you publish a clear, well-tested design.
  1. Thank you! Buy equipment and supplies for teams that are open and have done their homework.
  1. Be patient with the engineers, but educate them on risks and critical performance features. Join a project and provide guidance.
  2. Help ALL of the community understand how to seriously address this crisis.



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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.