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The Open Source Ventilator Game Has Changed: AmboVent and Medtronic COVID-19 Ventilators Open Source

Robert L. Read, April 2020

Today in the world of open-source ventilators, the game changed.

All over the world, engineers are trying to address a current and expected shortfall of critical care ventilators. In a nutshell, if you don’t have enough ventilators, the mortality of COVID-19, which is very high to start with, doubles. Without ventilators, twice as many people will die.

About an hour ago, a team from Isreal led by Maj. Dr. David Alkaher and supported by many Israeli institutions, including the military, released the complete designs, plans, code, and instructions for AmboVent. Dr. Alkaher gave me a run-through of the machine, the documentation of the design, and the way they tested it. For the first time, the world now has a freely usable design with enough detail to be buildable that meets published standards for treating COVID-19 patients. The machine has parts and complexity which allow it to be constructed with the tools available in the average makerspace or by any small manufacturing firm. They have made a video.

The whole world should thank Israel and this team for this

On the same day, Medtronic has released (almost fully now) plans for the Puritan Bennett™ 560 (PB 560), a full-featured ventilator. This device is more complicated to build, but probably offers more features, and has already been approved by numerous governments. It is perhaps more expensive to make. Time will tell how easy it is for other firms to build. The Medtronic license lasts for a limited time and is limited to this pandemic; many may see this as problematic. It cannot be the basis, even in part, of a solution that lasts past the pandemic, nor cannot it be the basis of modules to be reused.

Nonetheless, Medtronic has given the world a potentially life-saving gift, however reservedly, and deserves our gratitude. Taken together, these two donations change the landscape. They give a two-pronged approach to solving the problem. Large firms, governments, and NGOs can set up production lines for the PB 560. I don’t know what the parts will cost. Thousands of small firms and makerspaces can begin making the AmboVent today. The parts for an AmboVent probably cost about $500. I must now make some disclaimers. This is a fast evolving situation, and I may have gotten some things wrong. Nevertheless, the game has fundamentally changed.

What Should Be Done Now

First of all, we should thank AmboVent and Medtronic.


  • Teams need to analyze and attempt to build prototype versions of the AmboVent immediately, in order to assure that the documentation is complete and independently reproducible.

  • Engineers need to analyze the Medtronic documentation to see what is missing, match the bill of materials against supply chain shortages, and get a sense of cost and difficulty manufacturing.

  • Open-source teams working on their own designs need to spend a few hours reviewing the AmboVent design to see what they can learn from it or if they should even stop what they are doing and become an AmboVent prototyping and test team.

  • Managers and firms need to immediately think about what it would take to manufacture 100 or 1000 or 10,000 AmboVents. Perhaps they need to ask the question: what more is needed for me to have confidence in this design?

  • Medical professionals, doctors, and respiratory therapists need to assess the AmboVent and verify the assertion that it is clinically suitable and meets the RMVS specification.

Public Inventor. Founder of Public Invention. Co-founder of @18F. Presidential Innovation Fellow. Agilist. PhD Comp. Sci. Amateur mathematician.

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