Babies born premature or sick are often completely reliant on a ventilator to stay alive. In many parts of the world that’s a $40,000 machine that runs completely autonomously, but in developing nations it’s often the child’s parents — continuously squeezing a hand pump. It’s a depressing image that inspired students at Brigham Young University to design a portable ventilator that costs just $500 to build.
The dramatically cheaper price tag was made possible by the students stripping the device down to its basic required functionality, which is providing a constant and reliant supply of oxygen to a newborn infant’s developing lungs. So for their shoebox-sized ventilator, that meant an air pump, pressure regulating and air flow valves, and a custom-designed circuit board that’s cheap to manufacture.
The project was actually started by a group of students from a previous year who successfully designed and built a prototype. But it was perfected, and made mass-produceable, by a second group of students who claim the ventilator will reliably run for well over 100 million life cycles, or long enough to keep a child breathing for over two solid years.
Thanks to funding from a local philanthropist, the $500 box is finally ready to launch. And for medical facilities all over the world that can’t afford the latest and greatest equipment, it could actually mean the difference between life and death for infants born with medical complications. [Brigham Young University]