Our progress and plans: An open letter about the VentMon to donors and grantors

— Robert L. Read

In June and July, Public Invention applied for and received two $20,000 grants, one from the Mozilla Open Source Software (MOSS) Foundation, and one from Protocol labs, specifically to develop, make, and give away free-of-charge, the “VentMon” tester for invasive and non-invasive ventilators. The MOSS foundation grant had stronger legal language on using the money specifically for that purpose. We have now used up almost all of the MOSS money and delivered 20 VentMon free-of-charge to teams all over the world, including paying for shipping. The parts in a VentMon cost about $500, and shipping was typically $150. Additionally, there were a lot of development costs in terms of test equipment, trying out parts, parts that didn’t work etc., so even though we only spent $10,000 in raw parts, the $20,000 is mostly used up.

This first action was a partial success. On the downside, many of the devices have not been used and have just sat on a shelf. On the upside, at least 3 teams, ARMEE, DIY-Beatmungeserat, and PolyVent, not counting a separate Public Invention oxygen concentrator, made very important use of the device which advanced their development. In the words of Warren Koch of ARMEE:

The VentMon came at an important time for our team, as Public Invention correctly identified and addressed a crucial bottleneck for the whole Open Source Ventilator movement. Their sensor pack greatly sped up prototype development and gave us a viable sensor option to pair with our device in production.

The VentMon was an important part of PolyVent’s recent successful demo to the Mayor of Linz, Austria.

We are now going to use the Protocol Labs funds to make the next set of VentMons. One might ask: “Why? Is this the right thing to do?”

At present, in the wealthy nations, there is not a shortage of ventilators as there was in May and June when these grants were being decided upon. This if for three reasons: 1) medical advances, 2) social distancing, and 3) increased production in the wealthy nations. I estimate today about one fifth of the engineering energy being put into open-source ventilators is occurring that was happening in May, despite efforts by our allies at Helpful Engineering and Open Source Medical Supplies. Therefore, one might say that this work is no longer pressing.

On the other hand, in terms of sheer numbers the pandemic is at its highest point (in terms of cases and hospitalizations, but not deaths) both world-wide and in the USA. In the USA and Guatemala, field hospitals are now set up, and traditional ICU bedspace is almost full in specific locales. Likewise, COVID-19 is on the rise in vulnerable mega-cities in the global South, and in Europe. The future remains uncertain, and even though it may be that no US or European citizen will die because of a lack of a ventilator, it seems incontrovertible that giving the world better open-source medical technology must make us all safer and healthier, even if only indirectly.

Therefore, given the scope of the problem, Public Invention intends to continue producing and giving away the VentMon (and closely related technologies) for the next six months with parts and direct fees financed by the grant from Protocol Labs. We intend to design a better, improved version of the VentMon, the VentMon T0.4, and give it away to teams that convince us they will really use it by signing an Memo of Understanding. As always, our designs are completely open source and reusable (with reciprocal sharing licenses, usually (details vary)). Moreover, we hope to work with teams to incorporate the basic modular design of the VentMon into production ventilators. Additionally, as we have already done, we will develop, publish and promote open standards that help build a global community of humanitarian ventilator design and respiration support. Finally, we are working long-term to develop a community and culture of open-source medical device design which is respectful of the critical need for extreme quality control and regulatory approval in this life-critical space.

Now, at the end of October, the ventilator shortage is less publicized and perhaps less glamorous than it was in the Spring. However, we believe our donors and granters want us to push forward with this work and bring it to closure in order to prepare for the next pandemic or the next crises (such as war, wildfires, global warming, etc.) We intend to move toward a world where open-source medical devices are a dominant reality for the benefit of all human society everywhere.

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