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Innovation in the Face of Adversity


LAST UPDATED: April 7, 2023

A lot of content floating around at the moment is all about how to get the most from working from home, best practises for staying engaged, or letting you know that many businesses will continue (where possible) as usual. We thought we’d do something a little different and highlight some of the excellent work that people are doing around the world – specifically regarding design innovation. Check out seven praise-worthy innovators and their contributions during the coronavirus outbreak.

1. ISINNOVA and Decathlon Ventilator Masks


Facing a deficit of C-PAP masks in Northern Italy, engineers at Italian engineering company ISINNOVA were asked by Dr. Renato Favero if it might be possible to re-purpose scuba diver masks to fit them to ventilating machines. Decathlon – producer and supplier of one such mask – stepped up, provided the relevant information and ISINNOVA swiftly redesigned the valve systems to function effectively.

The design team was given the go ahead to test it with one of their colleagues, and – when that was successful – the hospital trialled the mask with a patient, again successfully. They’ve patented the Charlotte valve to ensure that the design remains free (as long as it is not used commercially), and ISINNOVA has published tutorial videos outlining how to 3D print your own. It’s now believed that masks of this design are in use across Italy, where required, and hospitals all around the world can utilise this design to save lives.

2. Dyson, Airbus and Rolls-Royce Ventilators


A host of British manufacturers are racing to design and produce the required 30,000 ventilators that the UK government has requested. 10,000 have been already contracted to Dyson and the same number contracted to Ventilator Challenge UK (a team made up of 14 companies including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, McLaren, Ford, and Siemens). 

Dyson has been working on a completely new model of ventilator (CoVent) with The Technology Partnership, a group of science and innovation companies with expertise in medical equipment. Ventilator Challenge UK is helping to manufacture existing designs from Smiths Medical and Penlon. 

3. KCWearable’s N901 Headset


Already in place with police forces in Chengdu, Shanghai and Shenzhen, the KC N901 smart-tech helmet by KCWearable is designed to identify and reduce the spread of an epidemic by utilising high-precision temperature sensors. Apparently the headset also includes night vision, license-plate recognition, thermal imaging for industrial facilities and facial recognition.

The company suggests that it might be a faster way of identifying sickness or risk in a more populated area, and would also be practical in hospitals, office security, and public transport. Perhaps a slightly uncomfortable but undoubtedly clever glimpse into technology of the future!

4. ICU Pods by CURA

CURA (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments) is looking to convert shipping containers into intensive care units for the pandemic. A truly collaborative effort – the team consists of designers, medical engineers and consultants, logistics strategists, and architects. It’s sponsored by Italian bank UniCredit and also has the support of several Italian design agencies.

The concept sees shipping containers fully medically-equipped and connected by a sterile inflatable structure. The team has been focusing on the portability and the speed at which these pods could be set up. They could be set up as extensions of hospitals or self-standing establishments in car parks or open spaces. As with many similar projects at the moment, the efforts are open-source and are therefore accessible for other countries heavily affected by the pandemic.

5. Hands-Free Door Handle by Materialise


Innovation is important, no matter how big or small. It may not be ventilators or hospital units but it's still very useful. The team at Materialise have designed a hands-free attachment that reduces the spread of germs and bacteria on door handles. The attachment is a 3D-printed lever that can be clipped to existing door handles in homes, hospitals and factories, and be manipulated by the forearm. There are now 10 variations of handles available to purchase on the Materialise website, and the 3D files are available for printing or customising if you have access to the software or necessary printers. 

6. Punk Sanitiser by BrewDog


There are countless examples of brands jumping on the bandwagon to create hand sanitiser – particularly following shortages of sanitiser with the desired alcohol content. However there aren’t many doing this as well as popular beer brand BrewDog. Following news of shortage, their distillery in Aberdeen began to produce Punk Sanitiser with 60% alcohol content. 

BrewDog initially delivered free cases to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary’s Intensive Care Unit and then those at charities Aberlour and The Archie Foundation. They have now packed and distributed over 50,000 units to the NHS and local charities, having enlisted local bar staff to help with packaging. They’re even utilising their beer bottle supply, provided to teams to refill the containers that have already been distributed.

7. Face Shield by Prusa


Various forms of this exist right now, but Prusa Research – a Czech company founded by Jo Prusa – have helped develop one of the most widely recognised. You may well have seen recent videos completing their design with the plastic of 2 litre Coke bottles forming the visor. They’re currently printing about 800 per day and have donated over 10,000 to the Czech Ministry of Health.

Again, the 3D-printer files are available for free, Prusa has shared their development notes, and have specified that the primary purpose of making these files accessible is so that the masks can be distributed as close to free-of-charge as possible. Jo Prusa said “The materials required to manufacture one unit are less than $1 and that is without any quantity discounts when buying.”

These are just some of the great innovations from around the world right now – we’d love to hear more that you’ve read about!