Bill Dally, NVIDIA's Chief Scientist, Unveils His Quick-Build Low-Cost Open Source Ventilator Design

Built from as few parts as possible and powered by an AVR microcontroller, Dally's design has passed initial testing.

Dally's ventilator is simple, cheap, and can be built into an off-the-shelf housing. (πŸ“·: NVIDIA)

Bill Dally, chief scientists at computing giant NVIDIA, has become the latest to release an open source design for a low-cost emergency ventilator for COVID-19 patients β€” and says it's easy to assemble for under $400 in parts.

The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the COVID-19 disease it causes, has left health services struggling to cope with an influx of patients requiring ventilation. Shortages of off-the-shelf ventilators have left makers and engineers attempting to fill the gap with low-cost emergency designs, with Dally's variant being the latest β€” and one of the most simple.

"I hope that we don’t get so many people sick that we run out of ventilators," says Dally of the current health crisis facing the world, "but I want to make sure if we do, something like this is ready."

Dally's design is built around just two key parts: a proportional solenoid and an ATmega1284P microcontroller (v1 used an ATmega328PB). Combined with a front-panel communications system supporting a range of protocols from USB and RS232 to I2C and SPI, plus pressure sensors, flow sensors, and power circuit with battery backup, and the entire unit can be built for around $400 in easily-sourceable parts.

Dally began his design after a call-to-arms by NVIDIA founder and chief executive Jenson Huang, and the microcontroller in the original prototype came from a cooling system he'd built for his wine cellar. After proving the concept, Dally teamed up with Paul Karplus, Emma Tran, and Drs. Andrew Moore, Bryant Lin, Ruth Fanning, and David Gaba β€” the latter of who tested the design on a lung simulator.

Dally's OP-Vent design has been published under the novel Ventilator Open Source License (VOSL) on Stanford University's website; more information can be found on NVIDIA's write-up.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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