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U Of I Team Designs Emergency Ventilator In Days

Image from a University of Illinois video of the Illinois RapidVent emergency ventilator prototype.

Hospitals treating patients with COVID-19 face a growing need for ventilators to help them breathe. Engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have come up with a design for a ventilator … and they’re offering it for free.

The Illinois RapidVent, looking at first sight like a few pieces of plastic plus some screws, is an emergency ventilator, a low-cost alternative when full-scale ventilators aren’t available.

University of Illinois mechanical engineering professor Bill King oversaw the team that designed the RapidVent. King is on the faculty at the university’s Grainger College of Engineering, and its Carle Illinois College of Medicine, which focuses on medical technology. His team included researchers from the college, Carle Health, Tekmill, an engineering design firm, and Creative Thermal Solutions, which helped test the device.

He says that what makes Illinois RapidVent different is how quickly his team of physicians, engineers and designers came up with a feasible design.

“We actually had a working prototype that was tested and had great working function in less than a week after we started the project,” said King. “It produced the pressure levels and oxygen flow rates that would be required to keep a patient alive. While, that hasn’t been tested in a clinical setting, it was pretty remarkable that we had a extremely well working prototype so quickly.”

King compared their work to that of the NASA engineers depicted in the movie “Apollo 13”, as they raced against time to jury rig equipment in order to save the astronauts in that aborted 1970 lunar mission. While no lives were directly at stake, King says their work took on a similar intensity of focus.

“We have a group of people that are working together in a team extremely focused in a singular way on a urgent problem that needs to be solved as quickly as possible,” said King.

The University of Illinois is offering the RapidVent design to interested manufacturers at no charge, on a non-exclusive basis. A page for the new emergency ventilator has been created on the university’s Grainger College of Engineering website.

“We’re trying to do something to help the world here,” said King. “We are excited that people could potentially pick this up and turn it into something that’s really helpful.”

King says the U of I is talking to some manufacturers that may be interested. And he hopes that production of the new ventilator can be scaled up quickly.

“In a perfect world, the technology could be picked up from where we are and be scaled to production within weeks,” said King. “We’re optimistic that somebody could pick it up and do that.”

King says the Illinois RapidVent will have to undergo clinical trials and be approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration, before it can actually be used to help patients with respiratory problems.

The University of Illinois is not the only school to have quickly designed an emergency ventilator in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers at MIT have designed their own device, the MIT E-Vent, which they are also offering to manufacturers at no charge, in hopes of rapid production.

NOTE: This article has been updated to note two engineering firms involved in the Illinois RapidVent project, and to embed additional links. – JM 4/6/20

Picture of Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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