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Innovation in a time of crisis

Publish date: 06 May 2020
Issue Number: 6
Diary: Legalbrief Covid-19
Category: Technology

From robots to a virus-killing snood and a portable isolation capsule, new prototypes to fight Covid-19 demonstrate what humans are capable of in the face of adversity, according to an Al Jazeera report. They include:

Emergency ventilators 

In the UK, Dr Rhys Thomas, along with engineering company CR Clark & Co of Ammanford, developed in just three days a simple and robust basic ventilator, which as well as helping patients breathe also clears the room of viral particles. 'Although it won't replace an ICU ventilator, the majority of patients won't need intensive care if they are treated with this ventilator first,' Thomas said. Additionally, several innovative teams have started using 3D printing technology to supply hospitals with much-needed ventilators.

Snood with germ trap

Another innovation from the UK was from Manchester biochemists; a mask with 'germ trap' technology. The result of a 10-year project with the biotech firm Virustatic, the product acts as a barrier that attracts, traps and kills viruses in droplets invisible to the human eye.

Protective plastic capsules 

Inspired by neonatal chambers that protect newborns from external bacteria and viruses, the Mexican company XE Medical Engineering reversed the product and developed an isolation capsule to keep pathogens from escaping, lowering the chance of it spreading to health workers. The chamber is a sealed, flexible plastic capsule that has a filter system to keep it inflated.

Smart helmets

In China, Kuang-Chi Technologies developed a smart helmet that can scan the temperature of hundreds of people every minute from a distance of up to five metres away. The headset features an infrared thermometer and can connect to the nearest hospital. It also has an augmented reality visor with facial recognition technology, which allows users to see the person's name and medical history.

'Phone booths'

A South Korean hospital built coronavirus testing facilities that are similar to phone booths and allow medical staff to examine patients from behind a plastic screen. Each patient steps into the box and consults with medical staff through an intercom, and should it be necessary, is sampled for an infection. The process takes about seven minutes, after which the booth gets sanitised and ventilated for the next patient.

Sanitising UVD robots

A Danish company created a sterilising robot that looks like a group of lightsabres on wheels. Using concentrated UV-C ultraviolet light emitted by eight bulbs on its top, each robot can destroy viruses, bacteria and other harmful microbes and sanitise hospital wards without the need for chemicals. The device was launched in early 2019 but the coronavirus outbreak led to an acceleration in production, and it now takes less than a day to make one robot. China also developed a similar model but added a thermal camera.

Hands-free door opener

A Belgian 3D company, Materialise, designed a hands-free door handle attachment. The design consists of two simple parts that can be screwed on either side of a handle, allowing a person to use their arm or elbow to turn it. The company made the design available to download for free.

Airport cleaning robots

CLeanTech, a full-body disinfection booth that uses sanitising spray, antimicrobial coatings and temperature checks, could represent the future of airport screening. The brief but thorough process requires all those going through to undertake a temperature check before a 40-second disinfection and sanitisation in a small booth that kills any viruses and bacteria found on clothing as well as the body.

Full Al Jazeera report

In New York, SA-born Marcel Botha is one of the key players behind a bridge ventilator, designed in just one month, and approved by the US Food & Drug Administration. The average time to design and build a ventilator is a year. At a fraction of the cost of other ventilators, the new product could help to widen access to treatment, especially in developing countries, reports The Sunday Times. Botha, an entrepreneur and architect who graduated from Nelson Mandela University and later studied at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology, heads a product design, engineering and development firm, 10XBeta, based in New York City, where he now lives. 'Our team is focused on building and evolving this product till it becomes a standard piece of medical equipment worldwide, so that any country that needs it can have it at scale for a reduced price,' said Botha. The ventilator, called the Spiro Wave, was designed as a stopgap solution for a looming shortage of ventilators.

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)

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