Rapid Prototyping Hack Chat

Concept to launch in 37 days

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Erika Earl will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 at noon Pacific Time.

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When one thinks of the Jet Propulsion Lab, the NASA lab responsible for such amazing feats of engineering as Mars rovers and galaxy-exploring spacecraft like Voyager, one does not necessarily think of it as a hotbed of medical innovation. But when the COVID-19 pandemic started its march around the globe, JPL engineers decided to turn their skills from exploring other worlds to helping keep people alive in this one. Fittingly, the challenge they tackled was perhaps the most technically challenging: to build a ventilator that's simple enough to be built in large numbers, enough to make a difference to the predicted shortfall, but that does the non-trivial job of keeping people breathing as safely as possible.

The result was VITAL, or Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally. It was designed, prototyped, and tested on an incredibly ambitious timetable: 37 days total. That number alone would be shocking enough, but when one adds in the disruptions and disconnection forced on the team of JPL engineers by the sudden need to self-isolate and work remotely that came up in the middle of the design process, it's a wonder the team was able to get anywhere. But they worked through the technical and managerial issues and delivered a design that has now been licensed out to eight manufacturers under a no-fee license.

What does it take to bring something as complex as a ventilator to market in so short a time? To delve into that question, Supply Frame's Erika Earl, who was part of the VITAL team, will stop by the Hack Chat. We'll talk to her about being on the JPL team, what the design and prototyping process was like, and how the lessons learned here can apply to any team-based rapid-prototyping effort. You may not be building a ventilator in 37 days, but chances are good you can learn something useful from those who did.

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

    Dan Maloney06/10/2020 at 20:07 0 comments

    Hi everyone, welcome to this week's Hack Chat. Dan Maloney here, I'll be moderating for today's chat with Erika Earl, who worked with the JPL team that designed a ventilator for COVID-19 response in just 37 days. I'm not sure I saw her log on yet, though - you out there, Erika?

    zacharia.mesbah joined  the room.12:01 PM

    Hmmm, guess not. Talk amongst yourselves while I track Erika down

    Erika Earl joined  the room.12:02 PM

    anfractuosity12:03 PM


    Hi Erika, welcome!

    back7.co12:03 PM
    Greetings everyone

    Josh joined  the room.12:03 PM

    Erika Earl12:03 PM
    Hi All, my internet connection is acting up

    anfractuosity12:03 PM

    Erika Earl12:03 PM
    Here from my phone! ^_^

    lykos_ joined  the room.12:04 PM

    Ouch! We appreciate your dedication, and we'll do the best we can.

    coty joined  the room.12:04 PM

    So if you can, Erika, maybe you can tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be involved in this project

    rbcarey832 joined  the room.12:07 PM

    Erika Earl12:09 PM
    Sure! I am audio electrical engineer, sound technician, and hardware developer. I was invited to the JPL team to consult on parts procurement and laboratory design for rapid scalable manufacture. NASA is used to designing 1 & 2 of something over a long period of time so they invited some outside professional partners to support the project for high volume production.

    That's an interesting angle that I hadn't thought of - their expertise is really onesies and twosies builds. Was there a "culture shock" when they realized they had to build something that could be manufactured in bulk?

    chrisrm joined  the room.12:11 PM

    Erika Earl12:12 PM
    Yes, definitely!

    For reference, this is what they built:


    FDA Approves Ventilator Designed By NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    Yesterday NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that their ventilator design has received Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. This paves the way for the design to be manufactured for use in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

    Read this on Hackaday

    Erika Earl12:13 PM
    I think the team really adapted well which is proven by the fact there are not only one but two designs that have been EUA authorized and FDA approved. One for traditional hospitals and one for field hospitals.

    Andy Geppert12:14 PM
    @Erika Earl This is very interesting - that they saw the need for help to shift their thinking and approach for both RAPID development and SCALABLE development. How did they find you and the others? Friend of a friend connections, or is this a service that is advertised?

    Chris Gammell12:17 PM
    I'm curious about the cost. I know there were different projects targeting different price points/features for ventilators, not sure if that HaD article mentions the final target cost? Is that part of your roles in taking this to production, Erika?

    Erika Earl12:17 PM
    My friend Michelle Easter is a Mechatronics Engineer at JPL and was a lead on the Vital project recommended I be brought in to support the team early on. She and I have worked on hardware products and projects together for the last several years and she was aware of my unique background and thought I could help.

    Andy Geppert12:18 PM

    Erika Earl12:20 PM
    Coming from a commercial hardware development background, I am well versed in costs and the need to make a product both inexpensive and still meet the quality standards and regulatory requirements.

    For the latecomers - Erika is logged in from her phone today because of a dodgy internet connection, so take pity - I suspect her thumbs are working as fast as they can!

    DrG12:21 PM
    From your Hackaday profile: ..".& hacking away at my first chip design at night." Not sure when that was written, but can you tell us about your current design projects?

    Erika Earl12:24 PM
    @Chris Gammell...

    Read more »

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