Rice University creates a low-tech device to help COVID-19 patients in respiratory distress

Rice University and a Canadian health company called Metric Technologies teamed up to create a device that they call an automated bag valve mask ventilation unit. The creation they've come up with is a low-tech device that will squeeze the common bag valve mask ventilation devices that are found in hospitals around the world. These devices are frequently called AmbuBags, even if that's not their actual brand-name.

Researchers have developed a simple device that's able to squeeze those bags to potentially free up healthcare providers from squeezing the bag for hours at a time in instances where ventilators are unavailable. The team working on the project says that these devices can be built for less than $300. The team working on the device expects to share the plans freely online for anyone in the world to use.

Rice University says that faculty and students started working on the project several weeks ago when requests begin coming into the University seeking plans for an early prototype that was developed in 2019 by seniors at the Rice engineering school. The team who created the device was called "Take a Breather" and designed and built a programmable device able to squeeze a bag valve mask.

The challenge for healthcare providers in using a bag valve mask isn't that the devices are complicated; you simply squeeze it to deliver air to the lungs of a person unable to breathe on their own. The challenge comes in the fatigue of hands and forearms that happens quickly when squeezing the bag for extended periods. Another challenge healthcare providers are facing is a shortage of qualified caregivers, and having to squeeze the bag valve mask manually ties up multiple caregivers who literally can't stop squeezing the bag without a risk of the patient dying.

The team says that it made the device "as simple as it can get, with all readily available parts." The prototype device uses an Arduino board to facilitate programming that allows the adjustment of the rate at which the bag is squeezed. In the future, the team wants to create a custom integrated circuit that will be able to replace the Arduino board at a lower cost. Also planned is feedback sensors to help fine-tune the flow of air to the lungs.