Coronavirus: a fan powered by Raspberry Pi will be tested in Colombia

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homemade fan

Image copyright
Marco Mascorro

A team in Colombia is to test a fan made with a Raspberry Pi computer and parts that are easy to find.

The design and computer code were brought online in March by a man in California, who had no previous experience in creating medical equipment.

Marco Mascorro, a robotics engineer, said he built the fan because he knew the machines were in high demand to process Covid-19.

His post provoked a flood of comments from health professionals.

He used the advice to make improvements.

“I am truly convinced that technology can solve many of the problems we have right now specifically in this pandemic,” he told the BBC.

The Colombian team said the design was important to their South American country because parts for traditional models could be difficult to obtain.

In contrast, Mr. Mascorro’s design only uses parts that are easy to find – for example, the valves he uses can usually be found in car supply and plumbing stores.

The machine is expected to undergo a series of accelerated tests in two establishments in Bogota – the University Hospital Center of the Pontifical Xavierian University and Los Andes University.

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Marco Mascorro

Legend

The machine regulates the amount of oxygen given to a patient


“The fight against Covid-19 is like a race,” said Omar Ramirez, who will lead the effort.

“Everyone is competing against the disease, but on different tracks and what determines these different tracks is access to resources and experience. “

Computing power

The Raspberry Pi plays a key role in the fan.

The British invention is a small, low-cost computer card, which was originally created to help teach computer coding. But over the past eight years, it has been adopted by enthusiasts and others to train the brains of a wide range of electronic projects.

It is essential to have a computer to control the fan. It regulates the air pressure, opens and closes the valves, and can adjust whether a patient needs full or partial breathing assistance.

Mr. Mascorro has made the code involved open source, which means that anyone can use or modify it at no cost.

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Raspberry pie

Legend

Over 30 million Rasberry Pi computers have been manufactured since their launch in 2012


“The beauty of developing a software-centric system is that we can make process changes without making too much hardware,” he said.

Trial

The equipment will operate continuously for five days by ventilating a set of artificial lungs as part of the testing.

If it exceeds them, the machine will undergo animal testing.

The Colombian group then hopes to start human trials in early May.

And if they’re successful too, the goal is to start using mass-produced versions on hospital patients by the middle of the year,

The calendar reflects the urgency with which the Colombian authorities are dealing with the issue. Testing and obtaining regulatory approval to deploy such equipment would normally take approximately 18 months.

But some doctors are not convinced that the machine will be up to the task, at least during the current epidemic.

“Anything that can provide a backup can be useful, but it needs to be properly tested to see if it can provide oxygen and pressure support,” said Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association .

Dr. Rizzo added, however, that the project has the potential to eventually produce reliable ventilators that could be used in future pandemics.

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