How to Contribute to Open Source Healthcare Projects for COVID-19

Ways to put your programming and documentation skills to use by creating open source solutions to assist the medical community.

Dr. Joshua PearceMany of those that are familiar with the maker movement, including me, believe there is a significant opportunity to apply open source design principles and mass-scale collaborative distributed manufacturing technologies (like open source 3D printing) to at least partially overcome medical supply shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, an Italian hospital saved COVID-19 patients' lives by 3D printing valves for reanimation devices.

However, those designs were not open source, and hospitals still need to file paperwork to get to the STLs, needlessly wasting time, restricting the number of volunteers that could print the valves, and perhaps leading to unnecessary deaths. Far more beneficial would be a free source of vetted digital designs that anyone with access to equipment could fabricate for their local hospitals. Ideally, these designs would follow good open source design procedures. We are well aware of risks and shortcomings to this approach, and that those used to the standard model may not understand how fast technological development is in the open source community.

Many people agree there is enormous potential with the approach despite the challenges and have started to self-organize to develop open source hardware to fight COVID-19.

The largest group is Project Open Air. They are a group of "Helpful Engineers" who have congregated to aid in the COVID-19 pandemic response by developing both open source hardware and open source software. The Helpful Engineers are working on medical devices such as open source ventilators, to create a solution that can be quickly reproduced and assembled locally worldwide. Although just starting out, they have over 2,500 registered volunteers as of this writing, and their Slack team has grown extremely quickly (9,000+). If you are interested in offering your skills, please make a volunteer form submission now. For additional information on how you can help, visit here.

There are many volunteer opportunities regarding the open source ventilator challenges, including:

In addition, the good people responsible for the open source RepRap have started work on an open source oxygen concentrator that could use your help. And Hackaday has called for an Ultimate Medical Hackathon: How Fast Can We Design And Deploy An Open Source Ventilator?

Even if you are not a hardcore hacker, you can also help with documentation for the Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies Requirements. The goal of this project is to aggregate, distill into layman's terms, and write up as much accurate information available regarding:

  • The latest, most up-to-date COVID-19 treatment procedures
  • All the medical supplies needed to treat it in both ideal hospital environments and improvised home environments
  • All the design requirements around using and making those supplies (including relevant medical standards distilled into useful layman's principles)
  • How many of each type of supplies are needed, and where we might be short

Similarly, you can help co-write the Coronavirus Tech Handbook, which covers open source hardware solutions.

Please consider applying some of your time, talent, and skills to helping one of these projects.

Lastly, I am sure I have missed a ton of opportunities-if I missed your project, please comment below and provide links.

About the author

Joshua Pearce - Dr. Joshua Pearce is cross appointed as a Professor in the Materials Science & Engineering and the Electrical & Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech. He currently runs the Michigan Tech in Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) group. He is the author of the Open Source Lab. His research focuses on open and applied sustainability, which is the application of science and innovation to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst...More about me


This article was published in It is republished by Open Health News under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). The original copy of the article can be found here.