In March 2020, as hospital beds around the country filled up with patients suffering from respiratory distress due to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) launched the Hack-a-Vent Challenge and assembled a rapid-reaction team to execute the effort. Two months later, five distinct, low-cost, ventilators were ready for production and submitted for FDA approval.
“We set out to identify a viable solution to address the projected ventilator shortage, and we got a whole lot more than we bargained for in the process” – Lt Col Audie Murphy, DoD COVID-19 JATF
The challenge solicited crowdsourced ventilator designs and seven days later, the DoD received 172 submissions. In the two days that followed, Defense clinicians and engineers completed all their assessments in Vulcan, yielding five final designs for rapid development. Vulcan is sponsored by the U.S. Special Operations Command. The prototype ventilators matured and successfully completed a rigorous process to demonstrate that they not only can resuscitate a non-compliant lung, but can also be postured for mass production. The highlights of the project do not stop there. In fact, here are a few noteworthy examples – all in less than 60 days:
- Open collaboration and ‘coopetition’ among two large businesses, two small businesses, and one Government Lab to rapidly mature 5 distinct designs.
- Re-purposing of commercial technology, including marine diving equipment, for medical application.
- Cross-country transport and successful testing of prototypes in the midst of severe COVID-19 restrictions on mobility.
- Infusion of private venture capital into at least one design
- The productization of a Government design and its partnering with commercial manufacturing.
- Open-sourcing of several designs and one technology transfer to an academic institution.
Despite the extraordinary circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the DoD executed this project with unprecedented agility, breaking through traditional barriers and inspiring its partners to deliver critical innovation at the speed of relevance.