Free open source hardware and 3D printing could help to alleviate the burden of Covid-19 on global health systems, according to scientists at the University of Sussex.
Free and open source hardware (FOSH) follows an ethos where blueprints for a tool are made freely available so that anyone can study, learn, modify, customize and commercialize them.
In a study published by PLoS Biology, Professor Tom Baden and Andre Chagas at the University of Sussex have suggested that this could be a viable option to provide our health services with the tools and equipment they so desperately need.
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The study provides an overview of the blueprints which are currently available for free online and which could be used to help in the fight against coronavirus, focusing on personal protective equipment, ventilators and test kits.
Although some of the designs still need to be tested, many others have already received suitable verification, having been published in peer reviewed papers. The authors therefore believe that FOSH should be seriously considered as a method of quickly providing equipment where it's needed.
Tom Baden, Professor of Neuroscience, said: "Now is the time that Open Hardware could really shine and it's so important that we get on board quickly.
"Previous studies and experiences have shown that free and open source hardware is a brilliant option in disaster situations. Designs can be shared globally, it has typically lower implementation costs than mass manufacturing and it can be easily adapted to meet local resources.
"But the real power - and the way this could really help to tackle Covid-19 - is that once a tool has been designed and tested, anyone can build it. This bypasses the traditional manufacturing and distribution routes and means that it can become a community driven endeavour where anyone with the capacity to do so can help to produce much-needed equipment and supplies for the healthcare services.
"Anyone with the necessary knowhow, tools and time can build on this knowledge to meaningfully support their community. At a time when global health systems are facing immense pressure and becoming increasingly overburdened, we need a response not just from frontline workers such as medical staff and scientists, but from skilled members of the public who have the time, facilities and knowledge to meaningfully contribute."
The paper describes existing FOSH designs from simple tools like DIY facemasks to 3D printed valves which can regulate airflow in ventilator tubes. Others are far more complex including state-of-the-art scientific instruments for diagnosis, such as an automated pipetting robot, plate readers and a range of other medical tools and supplies.